Northern Michigan University assistant professor David Pierce has been awarded a United Resident Theatre Association (URTA) Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Training for his work in technical direction.
“Quite honestly, I'm very humbled to receive this award,” said Pierce. “Like most educators, I do what I do not for the recognition, but for the advancement of our students. I work for the love of theater and the love of teaching the next generation of artists. For URTA to find my work deserving of an award is extremely humbling, yet at the same time reassuring that we in the Department of Theatre and Dance are doing something right.”
Pierce was selected for the national award by a panel of graduate theater faculty based on the professional preparation of his students at the 2020 URTA auditions and interviews, the nation's largest graduate school recruiting event for all areas related to the theater discipline.
According to Pierce, each student set up a table display of their undergraduate work in a room with hundreds of other MFA theater technology and design candidates. Representatives from MFA programs identified individuals to interview based on their table, portfolio and resume.
“A student's interview can be pretty brutal depending on the university interviewing them, so our students really needed to be prepared for just about anything,” said Pierce. “Every year we work with students prior to them leaving for the event by making them set up their tables, tear them down and set them back up again. We futzed over just about every detail you could imagine and ran them through a mock interview experience here on campus. Our goal is to prepare them as much as possible by identifying both their weaknesses and strengths and by making sure they have a response for almost any question they could be asked.”
MFA offers can be made on the spot and these offers can include anywhere from acceptance into a particular program to a full tuition waver or a graduate assistantship. The two technology and design students NMU sent in 2020 were among 1,200 other MFA candidates in attendance and took part in the interview portion of the event.
“I would be foolish to think that our students did not play some role in my receiving this award,” said Pierce. “Without their work, dedication and professionalism there's no way that I would have even been considered for something like this. We have such a great group of students in our department, and it makes me incredibly happy to see them thrive. This award is really for them.”
NMU Theatre and Dance Director Bill Digneit said that Pierce is an advocate for the department's students and for student opportunities.
“You can always see David in his office advising students and aligning their goals with the many opportunities in our program,” said Digneit. “Whether David is working with students in the classroom or on a production, he is always there to listen and answer questions while constantly placing students in ever increasing learning opportunities. Our students are very lucky to have such a compassionate and hardworking theatre faculty within their program.
“David receiving this award speaks not only about his hard work with our students but also about the entire faculty and the rigorous learning culture we have developed over the last few years. NMU Theatre and Dance has been in a metamorphosis in creating a program that challenges our students and prepares them for the future. This award is a strong example that the work by David and those within the program has our students on track for even bigger things.”
Pierce serves as the technical director and production manager of the NMU Theatre and Dance Department.
Through its awards, URTA seeks to acknowledge the importance of helping young theatre artists to develop the essential skills they will need in order to advance to the next level of their training, and ultimately the profession, according to Pierce's award letter. Award recipients will be recognized live during the virtual URTA auditions and interviews in January 2021.