Emily Stark '18 Works Backstage at CMU

Madison Thompson

After the first semester in CMU’s Design and Production program, she said she can’t picture herself doing anything else. “That’s how I know that I’m on the right track,” she explained.

After stage managing many of Lovett’s shows, recent grad Emily Stark (class of 2018) applied directly to Carnegie Mellon University's highly sought after Design and Production program in the CMU School of Drama, the oldest drama degree granting program in the U.S. I spoke to her recently over the phone as she worked in her dorm.  

The application process to get into CMU was “rigorous” she said, and the biggest challenge was creating a portfolio. Lovett Tech Art’s teachers Susan McCluskey, Brain Patterns, and Wesley Forlines “helped me pull together in record time… then I brought it to Pittsburgh for my interview in November,” she said. All of Emily’s hard work paid off because, out of 1000 applicants, she was accepted as 1 of 23 students in the elite program (yes, that is a 2.4% acceptance rate)

After the first semester in CMU’s D&P program, she said she can’t picture herself doing anything else. “That’s how I know that I’m on the right track,” she explained. Even when applying, she wasn’t sure she wanted to major in stage and production management, and that doubt plagued her “until about a week and a half ago.”

Many of Emily’s favorite “I love theater” moments from her first semester in college have taken place in the classroom. “I take drafting, drawing, design, production, and stagecraft classes in addition to a few general ed requirements,” she explained in our interview. Compared to lovett, “academics are not much different. The biggest change for me is that I don’t have homework. Instead I have a few major assignments due every week.” Emily’s grades are mostly project based with the goal being to build projects they can add to their resumes. The projects, of course, are the stage productions.

CMU’s curriculum has Emily working 22 shows a year. Currently, she is in production for their last show of the semester called A/B Machines, which is based on Andy Warhol's work. Emily describes the show as “a hot pink fever dream drag show. Let me tell you, it's a wild time.” With her current school and production schedule, Emily is in class all morning and then is called from 6:30pm-11:30pm Monday-Friday and from 11:00am-8:30pm on Saturdays to work on the show. Even though she has not gotten the change to stage manage yet, each day she is left “exhausted, but fulfilled.”

Emily credits Lovett’s “wonderful design and production program” for giving her a solid foundation that puts her on similar footing to the freshmen who came from performing arts high schools. …”I was given a lot of freedom to make mistakes at Lovett, and I’ve been able to apply that knowledge here,” she said. ”The rigor and expectations that Lovett set have put me in the right mindset to face CMU.”

Going into the next semester, Emily is excited about working shows like Cabaret. She has also started making plans for the summer, such as “applying for an internship with a playhouse in NJ, CA and a summer stock in Florida.” However, Emily is also contemplating taking “the summer off to enjoy my last time of freedom from work,” she says. This is probably because at school she is supposed to put 60 hours into schoolwork a week, but she admits “I’m clocking almost 80 hours on average.”

As tiring as her weeks can be, Emily pushes herself because it is important to her “to go all in. Half of your effort isn’t going to cut it.” She always has to “be prepared to work harder and longer,” a trait that will take her far in the theater business. In the end, her college degree and work “is not about the recognition or awards,” she says, “it’s about creating something original and important.”

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