Spotlight on Graduate Student Scholars, Teachers, and Artists: April/May

April/May Graduate Student Spotlight Profile:

by Clara Wilch

Julian Stetkevych (MFA Performance Pedagogy 2016)

A 2016 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh’s Theatre Pedagogy MFA program, Julian Stetkevych talked with us about his journey to Pitt and what lies beyond.

“I met Julian in the graduate student office. His shirt brought out his eyes which I’d only ever seen on the film screen before. He made me feel like we’d been friends forever— but he ate like a pig at a trough… and soon my opinion of him changed, drastically,” joked Stetkevych as we sat down, creating a funny meta-territory of celebrity-style journalism from the scenario, complete with pathos and a professional’s commitment to the imagined universe.

Stetkevych was brought up with an appreciation of arts generally, but first discovered the stage at 13, when his mom took him to see productions on a trip to London. The experience stuck— “That’s where I was first really inspired by theatre… when I came back I auditioned for my first play in high school— and that’s what I’ve done ever since.” After high school, Julian attended the University of Chicago where he studied sociology, and continued exploring performance. Not that the two endeavors are fully divergent. “Sociology is the study of people in groups- that’s what I do with character, I study them,” he explained. “What we are given circumstances? You’re doing anthropological work.” Still, acting drew Stetkevych so strongly it was to become his primary focus, lens, and career. In pursuit of more knowledge and technique to strengthen his passion for acting, he next trained at American Conservatory Theater, earning an Acting MFA, and spent several years working in New York City theatre. His primary forte is as a character actor, performing parts that are often more complex than the “subdued” everyman type that often leads. “To me [the villains and clowns] are more interesting. I have more fun playing that and going that distance,” he said, though he appreciates a diversity of genres and is ever-eager for new challenges. What’s key for Stetkevych is theatre’s immediacy, that “flow of energy with the audience and other characters… that’s what feeds me.”

Teaching acting was a natural progression for Stetkevych. Theatre Professors at University of Chicago “modeled this idea that you could be a teacher and you could be an artist…that that was a career path.” He discovered the University of Pittsburgh’s Theatre Pedagogy MFA as one of a small handful of programs in the world specifically oriented toward developing the craft of teaching acting. Leaving his hard-won professional foundation in New York’s theatre world was a major change, but the program was all that he had hoped. He gained a “strong background in pedagogy and a lot of experience teaching” and enjoyed sharing and expanding his expertise through work with students.

Stetkevych articulates the profound value of acting even for people not intent on working within performance directly: “So much of the work is just about freeing people up to trust their impulses and by letting them live, letting them be larger— so much of what we do in our daily life is dampen those things to be safe. And there’s nothing more boring than fitting in on stage. That’s the biggest sort of gift I can give them— a little bit of finding yourself. Finding your voice, being able to speak from a place of truth… Having empathy, being able to see and be seen.” He summarizes, “Those are life skills. They’re necessary for the art of acting, but they also just make you a happier human being.” Stetkevych primarily achieves this by doing. His students are asked to practice and create in every class with coaching informed by a lineage of teachers before him (including those at the University of Pittsburgh). Ever-energetic, he’s also continued work as a director and actor— directing a lab production of The Thugs in Fall 2015, performing in staged readings at Classic Stage Company, and participating in an artist’s retreat with Flux Theatre Ensemble, to name a few recent instances.

Next year, Stetkevych will be a tenure track Assistant Professor in the Theatre and Dance Department at Virginia’s Christopher Newport University. Now at the end of his time at Pitt, he concluded our fun and inspiring conversation on a note of gratitude for having found a path where he belongs: “I just want to thank the [Pittsburgh] faculty and all the students, because it has been a really great experience to get to teach and learn. One of the great things… was coming here and loving teaching. It is really heartening because… I made the right choice. It was a big choice, to leave my life and start something new… That’s been a real joy, gift, and pleasure and it is something that I love, and that goes into the future. This is my future.”


Congratulations to

Rohini Chaki, Claire Syler, and Peter Wood, who successfully defended their dissertations this spring.

José Pérez IV, who was awarded a full tuition scholarship to this summer's National Stage Combat Workshop, three weeks of training with the SAFD in Winston-Salem NC.

Claire Syler, who will be an Assistant Professor at the University of Missouri in the fall.

Julian Stetkevych for a successful thesis defense. Julian will be an Assistant Professor at Christopher Newport University in the fall.


Graduate Student News

Christiana Molldrem Harkulich had a chapter, “Sasha Banks, The Boss of NXT: Media, Gender, and the Evolution of Women’s Wrestling in WWE,” accepted into the collected edition Wrestling with Identity: Nation, Race, and Culture in Professional Wrestling which is scheduled to be published in mid 2017 with McFarland Publishing.  She also received one of the Theatre Arts fellowships for summer research.

Maria Enriquez, Christiana Molldrem Harkulich, and Dr. Lisa Jackson Schebetta had their working group accepted for ASTR 2016.


Upcoming Events

Vicki Hoskins will present her work at the Song, Stage, and Screen conference in NYC this summer.