Summer in the high desert as the sun begins to set behind the Sangre de Cristo mountains, atmosphere cooling as the color fades from bright yellow to orange to gold to red, the audience applauds the entrance of the conductor, he spreads his arms and then a...one...a two...a three...the orchestra begins the perennial favorite "Carmen". This was the scene in the summer of 2006 at the John Crosby Opera house, an outdoor amphitheater on the outskirts of Santa Fe, N.M., where Stephen Fister, a Southeast Missouri State University performing arts senior, was behind the scenes as a scenic artist apprentice.
The John Crosby Opera Houseisnow in its 51st season.Stephen knew little about the apprenticeship when he applied and he was surprised to learn he had succeeded in being accepted for the position where nine others had failed. He was not sure if he would go until he talked to Professor Rhonda Willis-Stilson who informed him of the scale on which he would be working. He eventually would be working with Tony award-winning lighting designer Jennifer Tipton.
"The best thing about the internship was that we got to have one-on-one reviews of our portfolios from well-known designers," Stephen said. "My designer told me that design should reflect more of who you are, what you feel about what you've read and how you should share that with the audience. This was a switch for me -- like a light bulb going on. My portfolio needed more of my personality rather than being research based."
Stephen admits a large part of the reason he received this elite apprenticeship is the progression of the Southeast Department of Theatre and Dance in recent years.
"The department has done nothing but grow and get so much better," Stephen said. "The talent coming in is incredible. The variety of players is great."
When he arrived at Southeast five years ago, there were only eight incoming freshman to the program. Since then, the shows have gotten larger as recruitment has stepped up to a new level. There are now 50 incoming freshmen for fall of 2007.
"A show like '42nd Street' doesn't just happen," he said. "There are kids spending hours and hours behind the scenes, sewing and in the scene shop."
Stephen would know. He has been in more plays at Southeast than he can remember, both as a technician and actor including lead roles from Stanley in Tennesee William's "A Streetcar Named Desire" to Picasso in "Picasso at the Lapin Agile." His vast experience at Southeast has recently led him to his professional debut as Faro in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" at the ColeBeanBay Theatre.
"I can honestly say I would not be where I am today without this department," he said.
And the Department of Theatre and Dance is only expected to continue to grow. With the opening of River Campus, an increase in the number of productions each year, as well as the introduction of touring series, rest assured that Stephen's will not be the last story of success to come out of the School of Visual and Performing Arts.