Student Profile: Senior Theatre Studies Major Kelly Harper and Professor Yuko Kurahashi, Ph.D.

What research did you conduct?

Headshot Kelly Harper

Harper: I'm going to be a senior theatre studies major with a minor in public relations. Dr. Yuko Kurahashi has been my mentor for the SURE program. We are working together on a project that the School of Theatre and Dance was going to do, which is a production called "Missionaries" by Elizabeth Swados. "Missionaries" is a true story about four American women who were murdered during the wake of the  12-year El Salvadoran Civil War in the 1980s. We're doing a lot of source material research, research on the women themselves, other characters in the show, on the Civil War itself and background information on anything we can find. We really wanted to know how it could connect to today's world and connect to a modern audience as well as examine how things have and haven't changed since then. We call this dramaturgy, which is acting as a voice to the show for the actors and the audience by giving them as many resources and material as possible. 

Dr. Kurahashi: Dramaturgy depends on how each director uses this role. We are working with Fabio Polanco, my colleague and the director of this musical-- which is unfortunately not going to happen due to the pandemic. His style is to use dramaturgy as much as possible for the production. We had the opportunity to work with Fabio by being the researchers for him which would influence how the musical's scenery and blocking will work. Right now, Fabio's plan is to use our research for future opportunities. 

Why do you involve undergraduate students in your research work?

Yuko Kurahashi

Dr. Kurahashi: The undergraduate students are a gem in our community. We would like to give them as many chances as possible to create a bridge between research and the stage. Many of the undergraduate researchers have a very strong performance background. Even though this production was scheduled to be staged in November, the directors and the creative team started long before April. Those who work in the summer, like Kelly did, work without any credit. The SURE program really gives the support, financially, and the organizational support because without the kind of schedule that the SURE program allows for, it'd be very difficult to complete research tasks within the time period. 

How did you become involved in the SURE program? What did you enjoy most about the program? What have you learned about yourself throughout this program?

Harper: As Dr. Kurahashi said, I think it's hard to find the bridge between research and the stage. I met Dr. Kurahashi when we went to Greece together on this trip during the spring of 2019. For that trip, we had to complete a research project for the undergraduate research symposium in the spring. I was always a big history buff but I never felt that there was an opportunity to bridge a creative world like theater with history, research and writing in a way that I as an undergraduate could do. Ever since Greece, I took a class with Dr. Kurahashi the next semester and through that I understood this professional and also collegiate opportunity to get better at writing. This experience has provided so much one-on-one time for me to develop my voice as a writer. 

If you had to give advice to students about reaching out to faculty what would you say? How has this program impacted you because of your connection to faculty?

Harper: I would say that you should take as many classes as possible and branch out. I came into college as a performance major but because I got to branch out, I found this other path that I'm very passionate about. Don't be afraid to ask questions and sign up for times to talk to faculty. Also, share your interests with faculty and keep those conversations going-- because nine times out of 10 it could lead to something. Keep pursuing things you find worth pursuing. 

Dr. Kurahashi: When we choose the dramaturg, for example, it's harder and more time-consuming work. It's sometimes invisible work, where you work with not only the drama faculty but also the director and other designers as well. It's a tremendous amount of teamwork, responsibility and time--but it's sometimes invisible. It's visible in the form of writing, in the form of programs. It's very hard for the faculty or director to know who to look for when it comes to students who are interested in research. It's extremely important for undergraduate students to let us know what they're passionate about. 

How have you seen students grow throughout the SURE program?

Dr. Kurahashi: I've seen tremendous progress and growth, especially in Kelly's independence as a thinker and writer. It is very important for the undergraduate dramaturg or researcher to work with the director directly because I'm here just as a cushion. It's very important for Kelly to work with, in this case, Fabio directly. It really showed Kelly's initiative and her independence in scheduling. Kelly will always let me know how I can help her. I am very proud of her.