When North Central College sophomore Katherine Fecht signed up for a recent United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT) Conference in Milwaukee, she was expecting to take in professional workshops and exhibits to prepare for a career behind the scenes in theatre.
Those expectations were exceeded when she went home with a two-day, all-expenses-paid mentoring session with a USITT Fellow.
While visiting the conference’s stage expo, she saw a promotion for the “Find a Fellow” contest that invited students to participate in a scavenger hunt and a chance to be mentored one-on-one with a USITT Fellow. The Fellows are a select group of USITT members who are recognized for being leaders in their field.
Fecht, a theatre major from Toluca, Ill., was one of two winners drawn from a pool of students who correctly identified six Fellows based on photographs from their younger years. To be assigned a proper mentor, Fecht could choose her area of interest: production management. When she first enrolled at North Central with a theatre performance major in mind, she didn’t know she’d pursue production management.
“I wasn’t cast in a couple of shows I auditioned for freshman year,” she says. “After that, I started working on crew, which I really liked. I also worked on production staff, doing more technical aspects and really enjoyed it.”
Earlier this school year, Fecht worked on light design for campus productions of “Sin” and “Float.” More recently, she stage-managed a production of “Sirens,” which marked a turning point for her and she changed her academic focus to technical theatre.
Her decision was further solidified after attending informative sessions at the USITT conference and she found a fit in production management. Fecht learned about the networking and career development opportunities at the USITT conference from friends who attended the 2012 event, and she knew she needed to experience the event herself.
“I emailed (assistant professor of theatre) Carin (Silkaitis) right away about how to get there,” says Fecht, who is taking a course in stage management this spring with a professor who is a seasoned professional in the field.
“All the big names in technical theatre are there,” Fecht says. “There are also sessions where you can learn more about technical theatre like stage management and lighting that really broaden your exposure to the discipline. I had fun looking for and talking to all the people. Talking to one Fellow, you can get tips on finding others. You also get to learn more about them, and they can learn more about you.”
She is getting ready for a busy spring term with upcoming shows, having assisted with casting for the upcoming production of “The Taming of the Shrew” and doing its stage management. After that, Fecht will be working on costume and props for a student-directed production of “A Story of Us.”
Going from performance to production management may have been a big leap for Fecht, but getting a feel for other aspects of theatre helped her find her niche. She encourages other theatre students to do the same and explore different facets of the discipline.
“Keep an open mind and try many things,” Fecht says. “You never know what you want to do later on, and you’ll learn so much.”