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No rehearsal needed: Students win theatre competition

USITT group photo

Emerson Performing Arts students recently won first place in a stage design competition at the national USITT Conference without doing any preparation beforehand. From left: Faculty member Debra Acquavella, Esther McFaden '15, Ryan Sweeney '15, Sean Swords '15, Brian Lehrer '16, Samuel Vawter '15, Taylor Ness '16 and Keith Cornelius of the Performing Arts Scene Shop. (Courtesy Photo)

A group of Performing Arts students attending a national theater conference won first place in a stage design competition for which they did no formal preparation.

The Emerson College team who participated in the Tech Olympics at the United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT) Conference in Cincinnati two weeks ago won first place for its overall performance as a group—beating teams from several other colleges with well–respected theater programs.

Individually, Taylor Ness ’15 won first place in the lighting competition. Sean Swords ’15 and Esther McFaden ’15 won second place for a stage management competition.

“It says a lot about our training and our school in a really good way,” Swords said.

The scores of the Emerson students who competed in individual competitions were added up for an overall group score, which gave the Emerson team first-place standing. The other students who participated were Ryan Sweeney ’15, Samuel Vawter ’15, and Brian Leher ’16.

“We didn’t know there was a competition until we got there,” Ness said. “Deb Acquavella [the Performing Arts faculty member who accompanied the students] encouraged us to compete, and we did.”

Taylor Ness

Performing Arts major Taylor Ness '16 won first place at a theatre design competition at the USITT Conference in March. Here, he is pictured at Fenway Park, where he worked part-time for the Boston Red Sox. (Courtesy Photo)

“It’s natural for us and easy,” Swords said. “We didn’t give it a second thought. We just did it.”

Ness, a Theatre Design/Technology major who works for Emerson Stage, ArtsEmerson, and the EVVY Awards, completed the USITT lighting competition task with the fastest time: 1 minute and 20 seconds.

McFaden and Swords completed their task in 2 minutes and 38 seconds. It involved taping out a floor plan for a stage.

“It was really cool,” Swords said. “We didn’t need to train for these events because we’re already trained in classes and the shows we work on.”


Emerson students Samuel Vawter '15, Ryan Sweeney '15, and Sean Swords '15 at the USITT Conference. (Courtesy Photo)

Swords said the team was hoping just to make third place, so winning first and second place “was pretty awesome.”

“It shows how well we train as students and what we get out of our program at Emerson,” he said.

Swords, who has worked for Emerson Stage and ArtsEmerson, said the students had a fulfilling time at the conference, attending learning sessions and networking.

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