Connor Pickett (BA, 2014)
Why did you choose to pursue your degree at Pitt?
I initially came to Pitt for the fiction writing program. In my first year I got hooked on Redeye and declared my theatre major that spring. I had no understanding of the relative merits of our theatre program, but I wanted to stay at Pitt and I wanted to commit to a theatre arts education as deeply as possible.
How did the program help prepare you for life after graduation?
When I was at Pitt I did as much student-produced work as I could. I staged my plays with the Performance Collaborative, I did every Redeye, I joined a company of recent alums doing site-specific work. Department support was limited and I was rarely savvy enough to get it, so I learned what it takes to create performances from ideation to opening night. I got comfortable with the workload and the responsibility, and I learned to shake off the sense of neglect.
There were disputes between students and administration about season selection, racist casting, and PICT. Similar struggles play out in my professional life all the time (between artists and administrators, between staff and executives). During my time I became accustomed to ('complicit in'?) certain degrees of conflict, failure, and lack of imagination. Struggles for visibility and ownership are difficult, slow and ongoing.
What is your current position and how did you get it?
I am an ensemble member with The Neo-Futurists. I write/direct/perform for our flagship show, The Infinite Wrench, a long-running vehicle for short-form non-illusory performance. I also teach & contribute creatively to other Neo work.
I first heard of the Neo-Futurists [link to https://neofuturists.org/] from Cindy Croot when we read '26 Rules for Great Theater.' When I moved to Chicago in 2014, they were the first company whose work really electrified me. But they have a small ensemble (currently 14) and have auditions only every 2-3 years. I took classes, saw shows, and won my spot in 2017.
During office hours I work in the IT department at Steppenwolf. While I get paid to be a Neo, Big Wolf pays most of my bills. I found the opening on Chicago Artists Resource. I was qualified based on my hobbyist computer savvy. I've had day jobs all over arts admin, at companies of all sizes.
Do you have any thoughts or advice for current students?
Here are two things I wish I had heard when I was a student. I probably heard them both and didn't listen:
- While there is a politics of theater, don't mistake making theater for doing politics. Most political theater isn't. If you feel driven to action, get involved in a variety of spaces and activities, because performance work alone will not be completely satisfying or effective.
- Have fun. If you're not having fun, this isn't worth it. If it isn't worth it, it is reasonable to quit. Don't abuse yourself for quitting if persisting is the real abuse.