What Caught the Eye: Finding UMKC

UMKC Theatre’s professional training program attracts amazing young artists from all over the country, but what is it that makes it such a magnet for talent? Stephen Jarvis (MFA Sound Design 2020), one of three incoming sound design students this year, landed at the University of Missouri-Kansas City after searching for a program with the right balance of hands-on training and professional experience. “I wanted to find a place that allowed me to develop my skills and help build a professional character,” he recalls, “Sound design is such a new field that I was worried about finding a professional program in a graduate setting.”

Jarvis discovered UMKC Theatre’s sound program online and within a few days of reaching out to Tom Mardikes (UMKC Theatre chair and professor of sound design), he was on his way to Kansas City for a campus tour. He expected the usual woes of scouting: the tension, the conference room decorum, a brief interview by a member of a boardroom committee. Instead, Jarvis was cheerfully greeted by Greg Mackender (assistant teaching professor of sound design), his warmth and candor a pleasant surprise.

As he toured the department and its facilities, Jarvis noted the breadth of skills students pick up during their graduate careers, that career being working alongside professors and other artists in Kansas City’s growing network of professional theatres. “The equipment and training that I saw made me consider the opportunities I would have. The students were very knowledgeable, and these were first -year students. They made me realize that I too could achieve some long-awaited dreams.”

When professors take on the role of colleague in productions around town, student designers have the advantage of learning on-site, hands-on, and in real time from their mentors. Such apprenticeships are common with Kansas City theatres through UMKC Theatre, and Jarvis comments on the openness instructors show towards working with their students. “It was abundantly clear to me that these professors are just as excited about us as we are about them,” he says.

After some discussion (and not-so-subtle hints from his wife), Jarvis joined the UMKC Theatre sound program in the fall of 2017, and has since been guided by what he calls the “first-class attitudes of the professors,” and by their attentiveness to their students’ professional lives in other areas. Professors like Mackender and Mardikes invest themselves in their students’ extracurricular interests to help designers discover their niche, using their time in production to help students get the most out of their projects. Jarvis says that professional working relationship was what tipped the scale. “I saw a real community between the students and teachers that I had not seen before. Before the trip was over, I knew where my heart lay. I knew that I could be crafted in such a way that I might be a credit to those whom I will work with in the theatre. No other school could give me that kind of confidence and optimism.”

by Calen Welder

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