With a dream of becoming a lighting designer or master electrician, East Los Angeles College (ELAC) student Stephan Azua has always relished learning. But he never really imagined that experience would take place in a college classroom.
“Higher education has never really been my path, but learning new technologies is,” said Azua. So he grabbed his backpack, returned to school, and found himself in ELAC’s theatre program. And it’s possible his higher education path won’t end there. At an event hosted by ELAC, Center Theatre Group, and the Yale School of Drama on October 4, 2019, he got a window into the process of applying to and attending a graduate program.
“Yale on this side of the country is unheard of, so that alone is just opening the doors for East L.A. students—and other students in the area, too—to think about venturing beyond the West Coast,” Azua said. Open to current undergraduate students and early-career professionals with an interest in theatrical design, production, and management, the free event was an unprecedented opportunity to learn about graduate school options with the Yale School of Drama, which offers programs in multiple areas, from sound design to stage management.
By uniquely bridging local community college students, like those at ELAC, with one of the most prestigious theatre programs in the nation, the event encouraged students to consider a future not exclusively at Yale School of Drama, but at a supportive graduate program that fits best with their career goals. The focus on design, production, and management was also unique. Students interested in disciplines like acting and playwriting typically have many more opportunities to learn about their higher education options than students in these technical areas of theatre.
The event was also a chance for Los Angeles technical theatre scholars and professionals to discuss higher education opportunities with Yale faculty directly. At the same time, they received hands-on feedback and small-group guidance from experts at local institutions and organizations—including our official higher education partner, ELAC, CalArts, and our own company—at a panel discussion, reception, and career workshops.
“We’re so proud to have ELAC as our partner, and have been continuously impressed by their commitment to career preparation and skill-building for all of their students,” said Camille Schenkkan, Center Theatre Group’s Next Generations Initiatives Director. “The opportunity to connect them to the Yale School of Drama—and to encourage not only ELAC students, but all local emerging theatre professionals, to consider a future at Yale—is deeply gratifying.”
The afternoon commenced with an informative panel discussion between Yale faculty members Shaminda Amarakoon, Chair of Technical Design (a 2010 production management intern at Center Theatre Group) and Ilona Somogyi, Assistant Professor Adjunct of Design (who’s designed costumes for productions like Grey Gardens at the Ahmanson and Marjorie Prime at the Taper. The two, who themselves are Yale alumni, detailed some of the program’s features.
“I had already done a lot of research on Yale School of Drama, but it was really reassuring getting thorough information from someone in person,” said Melissa Lubina, who’s slated to graduate from Cal Poly Pomona next spring. “It’s also encouraging to know that you don’t need to be the most polished candidate. I like that they’re looking for a broad spectrum of people.”
Yale School of Drama notably welcomes students without prior undergraduate education or a degree. Although the program offers both master’s and doctoral degrees for those holding a degree from an accredited college, the school offers certificate and non-degree programs, too. The Certificate in Drama is equivalent to an MFA for students without an undergraduate degree—making it an approachable option for students who want to expand their career horizons immediately after finishing a community college’s two-year theatre program, like the one offered at ELAC. Technical internships, research fellowships, and special student residencies are also available to individuals looking for short-term opportunities in research and training in select disciplines.
To hear what people have to say about the work you’ve created and how to present it to the professional world is amazing.
After the panel discussion and Q&A, attendees were invited to a short reception with food, beverages, and plenty of networking—everyone had the change to introduce themselves to Yale faculty and alumni, and learn about career development opportunities at Center Theatre Group, like our Internship and Apprenticeship Programs. The reception was followed by three career workshops, where students learned how to craft high-quality portfolios, resumes, and personal statements for the perfect grad school application.
The next day, students were invited to bring their portfolios for individual reviews with Somogyi and Amarakoon. “We loved the opportunity to highlight the creativity and professionalism of local students, including those attending community colleges like ELAC,” said Schenkkan. “Receiving feedback and encouragement from graduate school faculty is an important step forward, whether students end up pursuing additional education or prepare to step into the workforce.”
Azua, who took advantage of Friday’s informative workshops, was pleased that Brent M. Bruin, Costume Shop Manager here at Center Theatre Group and faculty member at ELAC, was able to review his resume in full, and offer constructive criticism from the perspective of someone with over 10 years of experience in the industry.
“The feedback we got for our portfolios and resumes is astounding—just to hear what people have to say about the work you’ve created and how to present it to the professional world is amazing,” said Azua. “Everything I’ve experienced and learned today has been super valuable.”