Outstanding Undergraduates in Theatre: History, Literature and Criticism
An interview with Senior Lauryn Morgan Thomas by Clara Wilch
As we end the semester, the Theatre Arts Department wanted to focus in on the work of some outstanding members of the Senior Class. Lauryn Morgan Thomas has been recognized for her work in the areas of history, literature and criticism, and shared with us some of her favorite and formative experiences at Pitt, goals for the future, and some insights for incoming students about how to make the most of an education at the University of Pittsburgh.
What drew you to theatre and history, literature and criticism in particular?
Theatre has always had a prominent role in my life. Theatre, in my eyes, holds a mirror up to society, and shows its audience the themes they need to learn from, or grow toward. Theatre is an opportunity to teach and inspire those who are both seeing it and participating in it to better understand the way we work as humans. Theatre is kind of a gift that way; it's a creative and fun and spectacular way to explore the human condition, and how human people can be.
I only just stumbled upon the history/literature/criticism area of theatre arts this year! My focus has been primarily in performance for most of my life, and design was only added a few years ago, but I've always been very dedicated to scholarship and research in my other core classes. That's why I was pretty excited to interweave these two disciplines and explore how to incorporate theatre into research and vice versa. It has been a pleasure being able to prove to the traditional research field that the humanities has a place in research, and that there is an opportunity to explore theatre beyond design/tech and performance.
What attracted you to Pitt, and how have your experiences here guided the growth of your interests? Any formative professors or classes that helped you zone in on your interests?
Pitt was actually my last stitch effort to go to college. I had not gotten into my dream schools, and the schools I did get into were not all that attractive to me. Pitt had rolling admissions, and it was April, so I decided either it would be Pitt or no school for a year. And when I did get into Pitt, I had planned on transferring after my first year and try auditioning for conservatories. But then I took theatre classes, met the professors, and absolutely fell in love with the program.
Pitt's Theatre Arts program gives you a deeply comprehensive education, allowing us to both explore the fields we come into school expecting to study, but also encouraging us to take a look into other aspects of theatre. I entered planning to study musical theatre performance, and four years later I will graduate having performed in musicals, yes, but also designing lights for two mainstage productions, and producing four separate research projects and papers in theatre.
My professors have only been enthusiastic about my endeavors and mentoring me to reach my goals. Lisa Jackson-Schebetta has been a driving force in my his/lit/crit career at Pitt, always encouraging research through practice and helping me to find ways to incorporate my love of performance into my interest in research. Similarly, Rob Frankenberry has taught me a great deal about the professional musical theatre field and how to use my skills as a musical theatre performer to serve as an educator. And Annmarie Duggan, my mentor in lighting and in my professional career in theatre as a whole, has been an inspiration to my life as a theatre artist and career, consistently challenging me to push boundaries and do good work. Without the constant support of my teachers in theatre at Pitt, I would not be able to have achieved this success.
Have you received any professional opportunities, internships, awards, grants or other distinctions we can recognize?
This semester, I have served as the Education Apprentice at the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. There, I helped to develop curriculum for students in the arts, and found ways to incorporate the arts into their core classes. I received the English Department Internship Grant for this opportunity, which supplements income for students who have to end employment to pursue unpaid or lesser-paid internships.
I am also the recipient of the McMillan Theatre Arts Scholarship (Fall 2016), the Honors College Academic Award (Spring 2016), the Chancellor's Undergraduate Teaching Fellowship for Musical Theatre I (Fall 2016), and the Summer Undergraduate Research Award (Summer 2016), which allowed me to travel to York, England in order to complete the field research for my research paper. I am deeply grateful for these opportunities and their generosity to helping me complete my studies.
Can you describe a favorite show or production experience? Any thoughts of the significance of new theatre work in society, or your aims as a theatre artist? What are your plans and dreams beyond Pitt?
I had the opportunity to be a part of Pitt's production of Avenue Q in Fall of 2014. This production was my absolute favorite theatrical experience, because we were a cast of underdogs just having a great time together on and offstage every night. The design team and crew produced and absolutely beautiful show, and I'm always grateful to have played Kate Monster for three weeks.
When I leave Pitt, I plan to work as a professional actor. My hope is musical theatre, but if Pitt has taught me anything, it has been to try your hand at everything and keep working. I have several auditions lined up in the coming months and I am hopeful that I will have work upon graduation. I also plan to work as a teaching artist, particularly in vocal coaching. Cultivating the creativity and talent of young people is an opportunity like no other, and I am excited to work with the next generation of artists. I eventually hope to receive my MFA in musical theatre and, depending on just how in debt I am, a Ph.D. in Educational Theatre.
Any words of wisdom for incoming students?
My advice to incoming or prospective students comes from the great Annmarie Duggan: Go to work. Kick ass. Show them what Pitt Theatre is made of!