Updated: Jun 17
A few years back, I was fortunate enough to meet an amazing student, Iana Dobreva, who currently attends Carnegie Mellon University. We met when she attended our Stage Management Bootcamp at Patel Conservatory. I knew right away that she was incredibly bright, and as I got to know her, saw her affinity for all things tech. We asked her to assistant stage manage (ASM) our production of Shrek, the Musical that summer. Iana stayed as involved as possible with our productions, took a gap year, and we hired her for several other gigs, including building some gorgeous props for Lion King, Jr. and Beauty and the Beast. Most recently, she was our stage manager for last summer's production of Hello, Dolly!
I’ve had some folks ask about getting involved with tech, and the college process for admission into competitive tech programs. Though I work a lot with techies and have trained a few, I was a performance major, so, aside from studio art classes, the blessing of a grandma who taught me to sew and quality time with my dad learning about building and fixin’ stuff, my tech training was mostly on the job training in the theater or a theater classroom. I figured going to the source for a short interview might be a good idea.
Suzanne: Thanks Iana, for being willing to do this interview. First off, how’s your 2nd semester of college going?
Iana: School is great. I definitely ended-up where I needed to be, so that feels great.
Suzanne: What classes are you taking this semester?
Iana: Our curriculum in the first year is pretty non-negotiable in the School of Drama. This semester I’m taking hand drafting, basic design, AutoCAD, conservatory hour, production planning, and stagecraft. In stagecraft, we’re split into four groups and rotate through different sections each quarter. This is the class where we learn about every department and actually get to work hands-on in every part of theater. We learn the material during our class period in the day, and then we have 6:30-10:30pm crew calls where we get to apply that knowledge and get our hands on actual productions. So, we’re hanging lights, installing scenery, making costumes, all that jazz. We run crew for one quarter as well. Mine just happens to be the last [quarter] of the year, and that takes the place of stagecraft for that period of time. We have crew calls 6:30-12:00 M-F for that.
Suzanne: What suggestions do you have for high school students who want to attend a school like Carnegie Mellon?
Iana: My biggest piece of advice is to not let the name get to your head. Just because “Carnegie Mellon is a great school” doesn’t mean it’ll be right for everyone. So, look at what the program actually entails. Almost every school tells you what classes you have to take to get a certain degree, so check that out. Make sure you like what you’re signing up for. If you can tour the school, do it. If you can interview in person, do that too. Sometimes you can just tell by being in a place that’s right for you or not. I couldn’t tour, and it’s not the end of the world if you can’t either. In terms of actually getting in, if you like the school, apply. Don’t worry about test scores and grades, just apply. The essays matter, so don’t blow them off. Be genuine and show off the things that you can’t show off in an application. Show a variety of things in your resume and be yourself in your interview.
Suzanne: Could you get specific on what you prepared for your portfolio and interview?
Iana: Most schools will ask for a resume and a portfolio review, which is essentially an interview. Often, you submit the resume beforehand. Be sure to bring like 10 printed copies with you anyway. You never know how many people will be in the room and you don’t know if they’ve seen your file. Some schools may ask for a digital portfolio submission beforehand as well but bring a paper one anyway. Mine was kind of scrapbook style because I’m a designer. It can be harder for managers because paperwork is tough to show off but don’t be afraid to include things that aren’t about theatre. Anything you’ve made that you’re proud of is fair game.
They also love process photos. So include those with whatever the final product is if you have them! Even though it’s a “portfolio review,” don’t expect them to talk about your portfolio, they probably won’t. It’s more like a job interview. Questions like, “What do you do?”, “What do you struggle with?”, “Where do you see yourself in ten years?”, They just want to get to know you, so be calm and treat it like a conversation. Be yourself. It’s okay to take time to think about a question, and it’s okay to say, “I don’t know,” if that’s your honest answer.
Suzanne: At this point, what are you leaning with regard to your career plans/goals?
Iana: I’m currently leaning into my artistic side and plan on declaring scenic design [as my major]. I really love props and building as well, so I’m going to continue doing work study outside of class in the prop and scene shops so that I get a bit of everything I like. I could eventually see myself being an artistic director at a regional theater, but I think I’d like to work as a props master somewhere for a while.
Suzanne: Anything else you’d like to share with the current high school theatre student?
Iana: My biggest thing I’d like to share outside of all of that is don’t let the money scare you. School is expensive, CMU is especially so, but financial aid is a thing, and you can’t put a price on your happiness. Follow your dreams, do what you love, the rest will fall into place if you work your butt off. And, it’s much better working your butt off doing what you love than to be comfortable and unhappy.
Thanks, Iana, for sharing your time and helping us understand the technical theater application process a little better. We look forward to an awesome future ahead for you! You can follow Iana on Instagram @ianadobreva
Want more resources on the college audition process? Visit collegemtguide.com.
Learn more about Patel Conservatory's Stage Management Intensive.