Kent State Theatre Student’s Innovative Set Design Places in Three Minute Thesis Competition
During a thesis competition, it is the norm to see contestants present topics about remedies for natural disasters or solutions to major health crises, but Kent State University graduate scenic design student Patrick Ulrich decided to enter the competition to showcase what the theatre department does for society. He used his platform to talk about how theatre inspires social change through an artistic medium.
“I thought that this competition would be a good opportunity to take theatre arts to others and show them what I have chosen to do with my career and my life,” Mr. Ulrich says. “Our work can help influence society in an entertaining and even subtle way, and that’s why theatre is so important to me.”
Last fall, Kent State’s Division of Graduate Studies and Cabells Scholarly Analytics hosted the third annual Three Minute Thesis competition at the Kent Student Center Kiva to help graduate students further develop skills in presentation, research and communication.
To do well in the competition, graduate students must effectively explain their research in only three minutes to an intelligent, but nonspecialist audience. The student’s research could be a thesis, dissertation, terminal project or an original graduate student research project. Mr. Ulrich’s research project was to design the entire set for the musical Little Women. Kent State’s version of the musical was performed at the Kent Campus from Nov. 3-12 and featured Mr. Ulrich’s finished set. In his graduate program, the students are assigned their projects, and he was pleased with his assignment of Little Women. He was even more impressed with the outcome of the final set pieces and decided to present this project as his topic during the Three Minute Thesis competition.
“I don’t always get to choose the story I tell, but I do get to choose how I tell it,” Mr. Ulrich says. “I was glad to be a part of Little Women because I like to promote theatre that is uplifting and wholesome, and Little Women has all of those components.”
The set was unique. Instead of having crew members move set pieces to change scenery and setting, the main piece of the set was built on a turntable and other scenic elements flew in and out from above by themselves.
“The director, Terri Kent, was hopeful that the scene changes would be magical for the audience; in the sense that they wouldn't see any technicians on stage moving parts around,” Mr. Ulrich says. “Having the turntable and other moving parts seemed like the best solution.”
Mr. Ulrich was awarded second place in the competition, and he says the experience was a positive victory for the theatre community.
“If we are able to educate our audiences that the choices portrayed on stage regarding colors, lights, costumes and more have a purpose, then it will make theatre more accessible and enjoyable for social change,” he says.
He sees the field of art as an evolving one rather than a dying one.
“People will always have a desire to be entertained and this will keep the industry alive,” Mr. Ulrich says. “This competition allowed me to show just how much theatre has evolved and to be recognized by Kent State as an artist in the same realm as all of the other contestants. I felt that it was a win for the artistic community for all the work we do.”