For the third year in a row, Adventure Theatre MTC will partner with the University of Maryland’s design department to give students the opportunity to earn credits working on a professional production.
The theater’s 2011 production of “A Year with Frog and Toad” marked the first year of the collaboration. After that show earned nine Helen Hayes Award nominations, including one nod for design, Adventure Theatre MTC producing Artistic Director Michael Bobbitt chose to renew the partnership. The theater’s production of “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” in 2012 featured University of Maryland design students as did last year’s “A Little House Christmas.” This year, three students — one in lighting design, one in costume design and one in set design — were selected for the crew on “Miss Nelson is Missing,” running now through March 9.
“When the university launched their master’s program in design, I was excited about the kind of work the students were going to head,” Bobbitt said. “These designers have great fresh approaches. They really do bring a fresh design.”
Bobbitt typically attends the university’s student design showcase in May to scope out talent for the following season at Adventure Theatre MTC.
“ … They stand by their stuff and I usually go there and walk around the room, ask them questions,” Bobbitt said. “Once I decide on the three [students] I would like to use, I run those names by the department … they like us to look at their second-year students who will be in their third year.”
Set designer Ruthmarie Tenorio, costume designer Aryna Petrashenko and lighting designer Brittany Shemuga were the three students selected to work on “Miss Nelson is Missing.”
Based on the books “Miss Nelson is Missing” and “Ms. Nelson is Back!” by Harry Allard, the musical tells the story of Miss Nelson’s unruly class in Room 207. Spitballs and paper airplanes send the quiet, long-suffering teacher over the edge, and one day, Miss Nelson goes missing. In her place is terrifying substitute teacher Viola Swamp.
“I had read the book many years ago and was aware that there was a musical based on the book, but I had never seen it,” said director Jennifer Nelson. “I think for everyone involved it’s a priority to stay true to the spirit of the source material but understand in translating from one medium to another, you have to make some changes. This isn’t like a great introspective book but it’s harder to transfer things like what people are thinking from the page to the stage.”
The opportunity to bring the Miss Nelson text from the page to the stage is something Bobbitt said is an especially wonderful experience for the design students.
“The benefit is to go from script to production,” Bobbitt said. “[As a student] a lot of the work you do is never realized, but now you get a chance to realize how the work changes and is tweaked … [there’s] budget, execution, making sure that your designs can be executed well.”
Perhaps most significant is that the partnership allows students to earn professional credits, something that can be difficult when attending school full time.
“Opportunities are limited because school takes so much time,” Petrashenko said. “On the resume, it matters because it’s something outside of school.”
Petrashenko is a third-year design student at the University of Maryland. Born in the Ukraine, she moved to the states when she was 16. A professor at the community college she attended in St. Louis was the first to introduce her to costume design.
“I didn’t know it existed and it just opened a whole new world,” said Petrashenko, who always had an affinity for art. “It was a revelation for me.”
Though Petrashenko has spent the last two years working in design at the university, she said there are more challenges working on a professional production. In the case of “Miss Nelson is Missing,” those challenges include effectively using a small stage space and dressing adult actors to look like children.
But beyond the technical difficulties, Petrashenko had to fly home to St. Louis partway through production to tend to her sick mother, making the design process even more complicated.
“One of the challenges is just doing something long distance,” Petrashenko said. “I had to do [ordering] exclusively online since I was in St. Louis. And not being here for fittings. Luckily, when I came back, I still had enough time to buy things and be here for tech week.”
Despite the roadblocks, Petrashenko said her experience with the partnership has been positive.
“When you spend three years in grad school and four years in undergrad before that, it’s always a little scary for your first production outside of school,” she said. “But it was actually a lot of fun … I hope everyone’s first work out of school is this stress-free.”