VCU wins big at Southeastern Theatre Conference

Sarah King
Staff Writer

Ten students who work behind the scenes were recognized at the Southeastern Theatre Conference as winners in their respective categories for costume, props, sound, set and lighting designs.

SETC is the largest annual regional theater conference in the country, drawing over 3,000 participants nationwide during the first week of March for keynote speeches, workshops, networking, job opportunities and awards. This year, SETC was held in Mobile, Ala. and there were 89 entries in the graduate and undergraduate design and craft competitions. Of the 22 awards, VCU took home 10.

“It was great because everyone at VCU came out to support everyone even if it was early,” said Luke Cresson, a senior who placed second in undergraduate lighting design. “I was the only lighting design major who made it to adjudication this year, so even the costume designers were there and it was great to have that support.”

Cresson said that about 30 VCU students attended the conference and almost all were theater technicians. He said the competition portion of the conference varies between categories, but it includes design concepts and photos of the submissions. Some submissions are then chosen to move forward into the adjudication round from which winners are chosen and announced at the awards ceremony on Friday.

“We’re very rowdy — we do a great job supporting each other,” Cresson said. “Most of VCU Theatre goes to the awards ceremony. It’s very rare for not all of us to show up, and we have the loudest cheering section there.”

The students who participated in the conference traveled to Alabama in a variety of ways, ranging from an airplane to rented U-Haul vans. Chris Foote, a junior who won first place in undergraduate set design, said he drove a U-Haul van carrying most of the luggage and materials for the competition to the conference. He won in his category for the first time this year, after attening three SETC conferences.

“My favorite part about going was getting to meet so many different theater professionals from all over the place, talk to them and interview for jobs, learn more about my craft and be around people who all do the same thing,” said Foote.

Foote’s winning design submission was the 12-foot-tall hairspray can and confetti cannon used in the fall 2013 VCU Theatre production of “Hairspray.” He said he designed and built the whole system for the prop.

Although the conference is designated for the Southeast region, Foote said students and professionals from across the country attend each year. He added that five Virginia schools were represented at the conference as well as Washington state and Chicago. For Cresson, however, the large networking opportunity held immediate gratification.

“After I won I was approached by this guy from the University of Las Vegas to go to Vegas over our spring break,” Cresson said. “Sure enough, I got a full-ride graduate offer to the University of Las Vegas and it’s all because of the design competition.”

Cresson’s winning lighting design was the first he had ever submitted to SETC, and the first lighting student to win an award at SETC in his four years at VCU. He said that prior to receiving his graduate school offer, his original plan for post-graduation this May was to try to do lighting design for concerts and clubs in Miami.

“You meet people you get contacts — it’s show business, it’s who you know. We’ve had students get jobs from design comp,” Cresson said.

While VCU took home 10 of the 22 design and craft competition awards, the school with the next highest amount only took home four.

First-place winners included Isabela Tavares de Melo in graduate costume design, Sophia Choi in undergraduate costume design, Lindsey Austria in costume construction, Chris Foote in props design and William Wacker in sound design. Second place included Benjamin Burke in undergraduate set design and Luke Cresson in undergraduate lighting design. Third place winners were Kiyoshi Shaw in undergraduate costume design and Jacob Sailer in undergraduate set design. Chris Hersey received an honorable mention in graduate set design.

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