I transferred to the University of Illinois from a community college in Washington state. I was drawn to the Stage Management program in the College of Fine and Applied Arts – the curriculum looked very attractive to me. In my first semester, I participated in an event called 24/7, which happens every fall in the Armory. Within 24 hours, seven pieces are developed, directed, rehearsed, and performed. This was an excellent start – an inspiring, collaborative process that gave me the reassurance that I really want to do this! Then in 2016, I served as the assistant stage manager for a performance of Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea, which was performed in the Studio Theatre at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. This experience transformed me career-wise. I discovered that I want to focus on non-profit work and visual theatre.

A theater major can sometimes be challenging – physically demanding as we spend many hours in the belly of the Krannert Center preparing for shows and sometimes miss the sun. However, my career path is looking bright now. There are a few targeted websites for theatre jobs that I have found quite helpful. I started with a Production Management summer internship at the Hangar Theatre in Ithaca, NY. I enjoyed it so much, that I decided to continue in this direction. I am now pleased to have secured a Production Fellowship at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, CA. Here, I have fantastic mentorship from the former production manager of the National Theatre in London. He offers so many insights, and gives me a lot of responsibility. I feel challenged but qualified for the role, and am developing useful skills in the process. I am also in charge of a fellowship production that we will put on in April, leading everything from proposing the play, to rehearsing, to directing the final performance.

When I complete my OPT (optional practical training), I plan to return to China to look for a position as an Assistant Production Manager in theatre in my hometown, perhaps even develop a theatre production program there. I am also considering returning to graduate school for a degree in theatrical management or an MBA program in three to five years. There are so still many things to learn!

To current Illinois students, my advice would be to take time to explore… get out and spend time doing what is valuable and meaningful to you. Spend time on what really matters to you – not on what other people tell you what to do. And, don’t be afraid to ask questions.

For example, a new experience that I had during my senior year was with the Counseling Center. In theater, as stage managers, we deal with a lot of emotions – especially when artists are working to access their emotionality in a way that will create a sensible piece. Representatives from the Counseling Center visited with us to provide insights, and shared information on defining points when someone should really seek help. It was inspiring and informative. So, when I was struggling, I went to them for help. It was such a new thing – definitely not something familiar in my cultural background. But, the Counseling Center helped me feel okay, and gave me a broader perspective on things. This was a very meaningful experience that I received from Illinois. Asking for help can make a real difference.