Twelve Buffalo State University students, some of whom are theater majors, are getting a true sense of the theater world by participating in the yearlong Western New York Theater Arts Professional Mentorship Project.
The Theater Department formed a partnership last year with the Association of Regional Theater Artists (ARTA), a trade association made up of almost 400 Western New York industry professionals. Elizabeth Oddy, the mentorship project director, worked with a committee made up of Buffalo State theater alumni and industry professionals to get the program off the ground last August.
The project will continue through May, and Carol Beckley, Buffalo State chair and associate professor of theater, said it has gone very well.
“It has given our students exposure to a vast number of theaters in Buffalo,” Beckley said. “The program also benefits the theaters because they’re interested in having a pipeline of new theater professionals who choose to stay here rather than move to Los Angeles or New York City once they graduate.”
The organizers created a “Mentorship Project Handbook” last summer, detailing the project design elements and all associated documents, and advertised for mentors through social media, direct emails, and in-person events. More than 50 professionals applied to be mentors, and 12 individuals—a mix of actors, directors, playwrights, prop masters, and set designers—were selected as good fits for the students who signed up to be mentees, Oddy said.
Throughout the academic year, students have met with their mentors at least once a month, attended theatrical performances, and participated in group mentorship sessions.
The idea stemmed from a conversation in an ARTA meeting, Oddy said, when Lucas Colón, ’19, an actor and musician, shared how he benefited as an artist by having a mentor.
“We realized our community did not have something like this for emerging artists and professionals alike,” she said, adding that the program gained traction quickly, especially considering the long interruption to the theatrical industry because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’ve made connections with filmmakers and theater people, earned a credit on IMDb, and became inspired to become a prop master.”
— Scout Chase, Theater and TFA Major
“As an educator, I knew the students coming out of lockdown and virtual classrooms needed to be uplifted, both skill-wise and for their mental and emotional well-being,” Oddy said.
Madison “Scout” Chase, a theater and television and film arts (TFA) major who uses the pronoun they, was paired with prop master Diane Almeter Jones, ’16. Chase said they learned much more about how the local theater community works through the partnership.
“I’ve made connections with filmmakers and theater people, earned a credit on IMDb [Internet Movie Database], and became inspired to become a prop master like Diane,” Chase said. “We usually meet one Monday a month at a coffee shop. We’ve also gone to see plays and worked on projects together.”
This included a position for Chase as a production assistant on a short film Jones wrote, This Is Not a Pipe Dream.
Meanwhile, student Carolyn Freeman, a senior English education major, said she is grateful to be paired with Kristen Tripp Kelley, an actor and educator at Nichols School.
“The first time we met, we had an honest and fruitful conversation, and we continue to do so every time we meet up,” Freeman said. “Most recently, we’ve talked about shows we have seen together, and I went to support her students’ run of She Kills Monsters at Nichols. I love that this program inspires me to constantly carve time in my schedule to see shows, and Kristen diligently introduces me to the people she knows when we go to see a show together.”
The learning and inspiration go both ways.
“I have enjoyed learning from my mentee’s fresh perspective on the theater pieces we’ve seen and the theater industry in general,” Kelley said. “On a personal level, I have enjoyed getting to know my mentee personally. She’s both intelligent and kind.”
In Beckley’s eyes, the partnership reflects the Theater Department’s goal.
“We want to have our students working locally before they graduate,” she said, “as interns, mentees, and in paid positions.”
Photos by Buffalo State Creative Services, Marketing and Communications Office.