Theatre Professor Larissa McConnell Receives National URTA Award Posted on May 16th, 2023 by

The Gustavus Adolphus College Theatre Department is honored to announce that the University Resident Theatre Association (URTA) has chosen Professor Larissa McConnell to receive the esteemed URTA Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Training in the area of Costume Design and Technology. 

“The awards recognize outstanding work of undergraduate instructors, coaches, mentors, as well as institutions, for excellence in the training and preparation of undergraduate theatre artists,” according to URTA’s award webpage.

Melissa Rolnick and Henry MacCarthy, co-chairs of the Gustavus Theatre Department, describe how McConnell’s work clearly demonstrates the qualifications for the URTA award.

“Larissa works for our students for all four years. Often, students come into Gustavus not even knowing costume design is a career opportunity. They start sewing in the costume shop, and then one thing kind of turns into another with Larissa’s guidance,” explains Rolnick. “Because she works with them for four years, she is able to first cultivate their interests and then work on their skill set, making sure each experience is a unique one.”

“Because Larissa is so open to the interests students bring to the table, she cultivates their skills but then gives great autonomy to their learning at a certain point,” describes MacCarthy. “They learn the skills, then they do assistant design, and then they design a show. By the time the student graduates, they have gone through a series of experiences that puts them in a very competitive position.”

The competitive edge is particularly important for McConnell’s field of Costume Design and Technology, where graduate schools only accept a handful of students per year, due to the costs of the training. McConnell describes how Gustavus’ liberal arts focus cultivates her students’ way of thinking that prepares them for graduate school.

“At Gustavus, we teach thinkers. When you are designing costumes, you have to be able to read the script, analyze the characters, collaborate, and create what the audience needs to interpret about the characters,” says McConnell. “It’s all about analyzing and being able to dig deep within yourself to trust that you’ll be able to find this information.”

As McConnell’s award honors her for preparing students for graduate school, McConnell continually finds joy in her work with students during their undergraduate careers.

“My favorite part of my work is watching the epiphanies happen, watching students make the connections. It’s amazing to see them realize, ‘I made a thing, I did a thing,’” explains McConnell. “The support of the department has been critical in my ability to help grow our students into thinkers. Our department builds classes that satisfy the needs of the students, and I’ve been trusted to grow that within this department. The department has all my thanks.”

Recognized with this award for her teaching and training, McConnell wants her students to continue on to graduate school with a few key takeaways from their time with her.

“I want my students to know that anything is possible. I hope they find contentment in what they are doing at the time,” explains McConnell. “I want them to think–wherever they find themselves, ‘This is my stage right now, this is where I want to be.”’

In addition to teaching, McConnell continues to work as a professional draper for Chautauqua Opera, recently published her book Foundations of Flat Patterning and Draping: For the Female Form with Routledge Publishing, and practices and showcases additional art forms within her St. Peter community. To learn more about McConnell and the Gustavus Theatre Department, visit their webpage here. To learn more about the URTA award, visit the award webpage here


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