UMBC logo

Undergraduate Researchers

Erin Patterson

Erin Patterson
Major: Theatre

"Five Weeks. 10 Minutes”

Artists are compelled to go to places they know will spark creativity and inspire them to work. I have discovered that in addition to training my acting, vocal, and movement technique to become a professional actor and work in others’ shows, I must also learn to create my own opportunities. This June, I will attend the Saratoga International Theater Institute’s intensive summer workshop. SITI Company is an ensemble- based theater company, focusing heavily on the creation of new work, the training of young theater artists, and international collaboration. I will be studying two noted techniques of acting, Viewpoints and Suzuki, under Anne Bogart, the founder of the company. These are techniques of composition that provide a vocabulary for thinking about and acting upon movement and gesture in order to tell a story. These approaches represent not only a physical technique but also a philosophical, spiritual, and aesthetic approach to many aspects of theatrical work. Together with 29 other accepted applicants, I will attempt to continue Bogart’s effort to redefine and revitalize contemporary American theater. We will collaborate in order to create new theater by drawing upon inspiration from our surroundings and learning new techniques of expression in performance. I will create my own 10- 15 minute one- woman piece that will be presented at the end of the workshop, as well as at UMBC through the Theater Department and URCAD.

How did you find your mentor for your artistic project?
Professor Muson has always been wonderfully supportive and helpful whenever I have gone to her with questions or concerns about my student career. I met with her to ask if she had any recommendations of summer workshops I could attend that would add to my acting training at UMBC. She suggested a few programs, including SITI Workshop. She also suggested that I apply for the Undergraduate Research Award. When I applied for the grant I asked her to be my mentor for the project and she agreed.

How did you know this was the project you wanted to do?
SITI was exactly what I was looking for in a training program. I was drawn to the work hours, the classes, the teachers, and the intensive training. I was excited by the opportunity to collaborate with artists from around the world and create new theater; to be able to act and study and be around theater for such a concentrated amount of time with peers who have the same goals I did. I knew that once I had this experience I would not be able to contain it, so I invented my project; to apply the techniques and experiences I had in New York into my very own creation, a one- woman show. It presented a new, exciting challenge for me that would give me a taste of what it is like to create my own theater.

Is this your first independent artistic project?
Yes! In the past I have done a lot of work collaborating with others, as is common in theater. This is my own project from my own brain (with the guidance of my mentor.) It is completely terrifying because I can not rely on someone else to have a brilliant idea that I can simply expand on, but all of the ideas are my own. It means that I have all of the control, I make all of the decisions, I have free reign to create a piece about whatever I want in whatever way I want. I have a wonderful opportunity to present my work and see if I succeed or fall on my face.

Do you get course credit for this work?
No. This project will be developed in addition to my full schedule of school, rehearsals, and work.

How much time do you put into it?
The training in New York cumulated in almost 400 hours of work but the fun did not stop there. I still have to create my piece, write it, develop it, rehearse it, and perform it. It is an enormous amount of work to put in to a 15-minute piece, but well worth it if the production turns out well.

How did you hear about the Undergraduate Research Award (URA) program?
The professors in the Theater Department send out e-mails with wonderful opportunities, such as the URA, for the theater majors. I received word of the URA through a department e-mail and again when my mentor, Eve Muson, suggested I apply.

What academic background did you have before you applied for the URA?
I graduated from Atholton High School in 2012 with honors in theater. I then proceeded to attend UMBC where I received the Linehan Artist Scholarship. I have completed two years at UMBC so far, making it on to the Dean’s List all four semesters.

Was the application difficult to do?
The application process is very straightforward: all the steps are explained and laid out for those who wish to apply. I believe that the most challenging part of the application is figuring out the details of the research before it is conducted. I found myself to be somewhat vague in the application because I did not yet know where I was going to go in order to complete the research needed for my project. This problem was ultimately overcome, however, and I was able to complete the application to my satisfaction.

How much did your mentor help you with the application?
I was very much on my own during the application process. I completed the questions and asked my mentor for a letter of recommendation and a signature. She made sure to look over what I had written before submission but had no comments. I look forward to her mentorship during the creation of my project. I have no doubts that she will be essential during this time of trial and error.

What has been the hardest part about your research?
I was challenged physically, mentally, and emotionally during my month in New York. While working under the SITI Company, I attended rigorous training classes every day for long hours, and then attended rehearsals with other artists. The collaboration process was increasingly difficult as the weeks continued, but I think the most difficult part is yet to come. I still have to create my piece, figure out what I want to write about and how to present it in a way that is entertaining, educational, surprising, and inevitable.

What was the most unexpected thing?
The most unexpected thing about my research was the sheer amount of information that was thrown at me while attending the workshop. I mean, if my brain was a sponge it was sopping and dripping wet with no way to hold more water. I knew that SITI would be an eye-opening, educational experience, but I had no idea the extent to which I would learn. Every class filled me with new ideas about theater and how to create successful work. I trust that my composition book full of notes will come in handy once I start working on my play, for without it I could not possibly remember the different important items that I want to incorporate.

How does your research relate to your work in other classes?
This research was the next step in my acting training. I have a background in physical theater, beginning as a young girl in ballet. I studied the Checcetti technique intensively for almost ten years, ultimately giving it up in order to continue my public school education.

During my time as a dancer I was picked up by Peter Sklar to attend Beginnings Workshop in New York. The workshop was a two- week long intensive for young performers, concluding with an Off- Broadway showcase. I attended this workshop every summer for about five years, working with many award- winning actors, directors, and dancers. It was at these workshops I began to study monologues, scenes, audition techniques, etc. I began the transition from ballet to acting.

After I left ballet I began to turn to musical theater as a similar outlet that would allow me to also attend school. By attending the theater classes held at my high school and participating in the school shows I continued to work and explore different characters, even though it was a small public school.

I came to UMBC in 2012 because I auditioned and was awarded the Linehan Artist Scholarship. I began theatrical training very seriously, taking many acting, vocal, and movement classes, as well as theatrical design, carpentry, costuming, lighting, dramatic literature, script analysis and so on. I applied to become a B.F.A. Acting major in Spring of 2013, and I have been studying according to the B.F.A. track since my acceptance. The training techniques I learned at SITI are all in effort to simply stand on stage with courage, confidence, and vulnerability, applicable in every performance situation. The body is an actor’s instrument. In order to have full access it must be trained and tuned. The SITI training brought together and added to many ideas that I have learned in my classes at UMBC.

What else are you involved in on campus?
In addition to my classes and training I have been working on various shows and performances. I have worked as a carpenter, fly rail operator, and actor in several department shows (Two Gentlemen of Verona, Eurydice, Kid Simple: A Radio Play, Criminals in Love,) as well as a few scattered TheaterCOM and Musical Theater Club productions.

What is your advice to other students about getting involved in research?
Further your own education with your research. Choose a project that will challenge and excite you, for the research is a wonderful opportunity to dive into your interests.

What are your career goals?
Simply to make a living creating and performing in the theater. I would like to join a company, or create one of my own consisting of individuals with whom I work well.

8/22/2014