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Tuesday, November 29, 2022

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A set designed by an SDSU MFA student. A set designed by an SDSU MFA student.

Students Shine at Cygnet Theatre

A partnership between SDSU and a local theatre company creates opportunities for MFA students.
By Jack Haworth

“It’s a really good bridge coming out of college into getting a taste of the professional world.”

For nearly eight years, the Cygnet Theatre and San Diego State University's Design and Technology Master of Fine Art program have worked together to provide students with professional theatre experience.

The program is supported by The Sheila and Jeffrey Lipinsky Family Fund. Annually, six students receive a fellowship with Cygnet Theatre where they serve as designers or assistants during Cygnet productions. The funding provides students a stipend that allows them to participate in the experience regardless of financial need.

Fellows had the opportunity to see their ideas realized in professional productions, including "It’s a Wonderful Life," "Love Song," "Cabaret,"" Little Shop of Horrors," "Spring Awakening" and "My Fair Lady."

Since 2008, students have worked in lighting, scenic and costume design, and as technical assistants. Faculty at SDSU supervise each fellowship to ensure the link between applied learning practices and curriculum. At the Cygnet, Artistic Director Sean Murray acts as a mentor and teacher to the fellows throughout the process.

“The partnership is invaluable for our students,” said D.J. Hopkins, director of the School of Theatre, Television, and Film. “Since we have developed this partnership more than 10 students have gone on to design at the Cygnet. That is a testament to the strength of the program at SDSU.”

Gabrielle Heerschap is a third year MFA student and currently a Cygnet intern. She worked as a scenic designer for Cygnet’s recent production, "My Fair Lady."

“I was excited to work both with the theatre company and the designer because it puts you in a higher level of professionalism,” Heerschap said. “It’s a really good bridge coming out of college into getting a taste of the professional world.”

While experience is the main benefit from this partnership, it would not be possible without funding. Recently, the Lipinsky Family extended the fellowship for another three years.

This extension is essential because without the ability to provide the interns compensation, the partnership may have been jeopardized. MFA students like Heerschap understand financial difficulties and are thankful for the scholarship.

“It’s a huge help,” Heerschap said. “Especially as a graduate student, it is really difficult to manage all your work and still support yourself. So scholarships are an incredibly valuable resource for us.”

Competitive program

SDSU's MFA Design and Technology program is an exclusive three-year program that admits no more than two students per year into each of the four disciplines, which include scenery, costume, lighting design and technology. With a maximum of 24 students in the entire program at any one time, students can learn in an intimate setting.

Currently, Cygnet is the only such fellowship offered to the MFA students. While faculty members are always looking to add more, funding remains the key obstacle.

“Fundraising is always tricky but especially for technical theatre, because we are behind the scenes,” said Craig Wolf, head of theatre design program. “Musical theatre can troop out the beautiful singers performing a number but it’s hard for us to troop out the hammers and scenery.”

While in the future more internships may become available, for now the students will continue gaining valuable experience at Cygnet Theatre, a partnership that has been and continues to be made possible by the Lipinsky family.