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UTEP Theatre Department Wins National Award for Design and Technology

UTEP’s Department of Theatre and Dance has won the prestigious Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Training in Design and Technology from the 山ּ Resident Theatre Association (URTA), the premier theater organization promoting the next generation of artists through their support of excellent professional training. Recipients will be honored at the URTA Auditions and Interviews event in Chicago Jan. 27-30.

Theater performances go beyond just acting. Everything from the sets to the lighting design have a profound impact on the final performance. Larry Ortiz, a UTEP theater alum, learned the ins and outs of lighting design through the mentorship he received as a UTEP student, allowing him to strategically light performances like this one. Now, UTEP is being recognized for its mentorship in the area of design and technology with an award from the 山ּ Resident Theatre Association.
Theater performances go beyond just acting. Everything from the sets to the lighting design have a profound impact on the final performance. Larry Ortiz, a UTEP theater alum, learned the ins and outs of lighting design through the mentorship he received as a UTEP student, allowing him to strategically light performances like this one. Now, UTEP is being recognized for its mentorship in the area of design and technology with an award from the 山ּ Resident Theatre Association.

While actors, dancers and singers bring live performances to life, the strategic use of technology and design enhances the impact of their work. But it’s so much more than providing a backdrop, flipping on a light and ensuring the audiences can see the performances, according to Hideaki Tsutsui, professor and chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance. Being strategic with the design and technology used during a performance can affect the tone and mood of a scene, create suspense and help ensure audiences know where to focus their attention.

Tsutsui says designing a production involves mechanical and artistic research, mathematical calculations and the right instrument and angle – and that’s just the lighting. Everything from the setting to the date and time of the story affect the final product. “You learn and train yourself as a designer, but there’s a lot of research that goes into the process,” he said. “And that’s one of the things [our students] present when they do graduate school interviews. In our mentorship, we make sure they are able to present the arc of the design process. So, whether they’re learning classical lighting like in Shakespeare [productions] or modern lighting or it’s for a dance or musical, it requires a certain approach.” 

The URTA award allows UTEP to send two undergraduate students who specialize in design and technology to the organization's Auditions and Interviews event, where they have the opportunity to meet with recruiters and audition for Master of Fine Arts programs across the nation."

“Our students have been going to the conference where they do graduate school interviews and auditions, and that’s where they saw our students’ achievements,” Tsutsui said. “They saw the [quality of] their education level and training and were acknowledged for it. It’s very much at the professional level, and that’s what we strive to be.”

Through UTEP’s theatre program, students gain hands-on experience performing and designing productions at the Wise Family Theatre and the June Sadowski Kruszewski Studio Theatre on campus. They work closely with professors, who provide sincere mentorship and work to track their progress throughout their degree plan. They also have the opportunity to choose a concentration that closely aligns with their goals, such as lighting or costume design.

UTEP alumnus Larry Ortiz, who graduated with his Bachelor of Arts in Theatre from UTEP in May 2023, has benefitted from the support of this program.

“I really lucked out,” Ortiz said. “Hideaki Tsutsui is really thoughtful and compassionate, and he had a vision for what he wanted the department to look like. [The faculty] have been working hard and writing grants for students like me to work with equipment every day that I would have otherwise had to drive five hours to use elsewhere. I think the education and training [at UTEP] rivals bigger schools.”

Ortiz also had the opportunity to participate in URTA’s Auditions and Interviews events, where he searched for the same kind of support he received at UTEP for his graduate studies. He is now pursuing his Master of Fine Arts in Lighting Design at the David Geffen School of Drama at Yale 山ּ.

Tsutsui, originally from Japan, began teaching at UTEP after a career in lighting design in both New York City and Hawaii. He wanted to support future generations of designers and theatre performers. He is proud to work as a professor for a Hispanic-serving institution like UTEP, believing that increasing the number of Hispanic individuals in theater is critical now more than ever.

“Hispanic and Latino populations are underrepresented,” Tsutsui said. “So for us to be able to not only educate them, but for them to be able to go to top-level graduate schools and become leaders in the industry, I feel that’s why we’re here. We have wonderful faculty who care about their students deeply and hardworking students here at UTEP. I’m very happy [our program] is being recognized.”

To learn more about UTEP’s theatre program, visit /programs/undergraduate/theatre.html.

Last Updated on January 26, 2024 at 12:00 AM | Originally published January 26, 2024

By Julia Hettiger UTEP Marketing and Communications