University of Minnesota Duluth


Kirsten Kvalsten: Spotlight on Politics and CommunicationKirsten Kvalsten

There is a spirit of ingenuity and creative connectedness reflected in Kirsten Kvalsten's career. Most of the time, careers match the degree: An accounting major works in a finance department; an art major manages a museum; a math major teaches math.

But what about a communications major with a minor in theatre entering the political arena?

"All of the UMD theatre classes prepared me for Capitol Hill, especially stage direction," said alumna Kirsten Kvalsten, who, since graduation in May 2011, has worked for Senator John Hoeven of North Dakota in Washington, D.C., as his deputy scheduler.

The demand for excellent organization, setting goals with follow through, and pristine communication are constant requirements. Even though there were challenges along the way during her college career, Kvalsten remained true to her passion for theatre and communication.

"I love that I use the poise, organization, and vocal skills I learned as a theatre minor. One class I particularly enjoyed in college was my directing class. I feel that I can use the skills and lessons from that class on a daily basis, understanding how all the parts of the office work together to help the senator serve North Dakota. In directing, I learned how all the moving parts in a production work to create a final product, the performance. I use that mentality in D.C. as all the working parts of a congressional office work toward a particular goal. My studies unquestionably helped me to get to where I am."

Dated March 19, 2013 Read More




Nicole Jordan Supports the Work of Symphony MusiciansNicole Jordan

Nicole Jordan is living her dream, working with a major U.S. symphony orchestra. She graduated from the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) in 2008 with her bachelor’s degree in music performance with an emphasis on the viola. Originally from Philadelphia, Penn., she now works as performance librarian for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. A performance librarian is a specialist in music, working in a library setting. They are professionals, in charge of the care and management of an orchestra’s music collection.

Jordan said her biggest surprise was the actual amount of music material she needs to know to be effective at her job. She needs to have a good grasp on multiple languages, such as Russian, Italian, German, and French. She needs a strong background in music history and music theory too. She is also allotted the task of having to know how to play every single instrument in the orchestra. Employers want a versatile employee, and Jordan is up to the task.

"Now, I don't spend up to eight hours practicing a day," Jordan said, when asked about the biggest differences between school and work. "And, I only work only one job instead of four." She has had many adventures in Atlanta, such as taking the wrong train and almost missing her interview for the orchestra altogether. One time she was busy playing Angry Birds, a game on her cell phone, and when she looked up she saw the actor, Alec Baldwin, walk right past her.

Because the music changes for each concert, Jordan gets to do new and engaging projects nearly every day. “Although I’m not on stage, my work supports the music being performed," she said. "I get to create a transformative experience for people in the audience. I am very fortunate to be living my dream. It is my wish that everyone can do the same.”

Dated March 7, 2013 Read More




Erin Ohland and Jenna Houck Get Noticed for Medea's Costume and Set DesignOhlandJenna

Two University of Minnesota Duluth students from the School of Fine Arts had their work chosen for the Cover the Walls Exhibition of scenery, lighting, and costume design presented by the United States Institute for Theater Technology (USITT). Juniors Erin Ohland and Jenna Houck showed their designs for last year’s UMD performance of Medea. Ohland is working on a Bachelor of Fine Arts in scenic design – she designed the set, and Houck is working on a BFA in scenic design and costume design – she designed costumes.

For these BFA students, theater is a lot of work and dedication. "Once you choose theater, you’re in it for life,” said Ohland.

To continue to be a part of the BFA program, students must requalify for their majors. “We have to do it every year. It’s basically like trying out to be in the School of Fine Arts.

They both worked on the show It’s a Wonderful Life. Houck has designed the set for White Baby, and she also constructed Cinderella’s dress for Roger’s and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. Ohland has done scenic design for the shows Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up? and The Odyssey.

Both students are excited about getting their designs noticed and having the opportunity to go to the Annual Conference. They realize putting together a show takes more than just two people. “The production team deserves thanks. They are good people. Winning the Cover the Walls for the Medea designs wouldn’t have been possible without them,” said Houck.

Earlier this fall, UMD hosted the conference for the USITT Midwest region’s chapter. The biannual Cover the Walls Exhibition took place at that event. Chapter members presented their work in the exhibition of scenery, lighting, and costume design. The winners of the top three best designs, including Ohland and Houck, will receive a registration-paid trip to the USITT Annual Conference and Stage Expo. This year, the event will be held in Milwaukee, Wis. from March 20-23. Performing arts and entertainment professionals attend, along with more than 200 companies from all over the world who present the latest innovations in theatre technology and design.

Dated February 7, 2013 Read More



Graeme Shields UMD Supports Undergraduate Research Activities Grahme

In every discipline, UMD supports undergraduate students who work with a faculty member on research. In fact, UMD pays the student for their efforts.

Those who can, earn their keep.

Graeme Shields has a creative project UROP working under Justin Rubin, professor of music. "Dr. Rubin is one of the most knowledgeable mentors I have ever had the fortune to work with," said Shields. "He has positively influenced my writing as it becomes more mature. Working with a helpful and dedicated professor, I am excited to journey into a world of research and experience." Shields is working on composing music for the spring 2013 production of William Shakespeare’s Coriolanus. He is writing all the scene changes, the music during the battle scenes, and the underscore. Some music sequences will be two minutes and some will be a couple of seconds.

Kate Ufema, director UMD Theatre Department and professor of Voice and Speech and Musical Theatre Specialist, is directing the play. Ufema has put her own spin on it by switching the gender roles; all the male roles will be played by females and vice versa. “I think she wanted it set in time when most men would be killed in war, so women become the dominant gender,” Shields said.

As Ufema planned a production with a lot of music, she consulted with Rubin. He recommended Shields, a junior music theory and composition major, as a composition student capable and willing to write programmatic music.

“She wants it to be pretty epic; she wants big battle scenes,” Shields said. “Since the gender roles are switched, it is called Coroliana, named after the main female character.”

All the music Graeme is composing is digital music. “It’s not digital like futuristic sounds but all digital instruments, such as digital ensemble and digital flute,” he said.

Graeme said that there are advantages of composing digital music. “"If I like the way it sounds, I can put it in there whether it's technically possible to play or not,” he said. “All my performances were done on computer and it relates back all the way to when I started composing.”

Shields said that every year at UMD is getting better and better, with more opportunities, and meeting more people. “I feel like I am starting to get a little less conservative as far as compositions go, I am not afraid to do things I was afraid to do two years ago,” he said.

Dated January 24, 2013 Read More



Caity Shea Violette: An Impressive College Career Violette

It’s rare for an undergraduate’s work to receive national attention. Most students hope for success as a professional down the road. Caity Shea Violette didn’t wait. She was a writer, actress, and 2012 Playwriting Excellence Award recipient, all before she was a senior.

Those who can, craft their own scenes.

Caity Shea Violette’s play Target Behavior captured the 2012 Playwriting Excellence Award at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival in Washington D.C.

A s a senior at UMD, Caity Shea Violette has accomplished more in her three years of college than many professional playwrights do in the early years of their career. An acting major, Violette has been involved in a wide range of theatrical training, both as a stage actor and a playwright.

As an actor, she has performed in Shakespeare’s Richard III and The Laramie Project at UMD. In November 2012, honoring the 25th anniversary of the Duluth Sister City relationship with Vaxjo, Sweden, Violette played Marie in the UMD production of White Baby.

As a playwright, Violette’s first full-length play Target Behavior, became the first student written play to showcase on UMD’s main stage theater. She has completed three Undergraduate Research Opportunity Projects (UROPs), all of which focused on playwriting. Violette is the recipient of multiple scholarships, including the prestigious Iron Range Merit Scholarship, the Olive Anna Tezla Scholarship, the Gershgol Fine Arts Scholarship, and the Kanter Family Scholarship.

After she graduates in May 2013, Violette plans to move to Chicago to try her hand at acting before going to graduate school for an MFA in playwriting. “We have a phenomenal faculty,” Violette said. “It has completely made the difference.”

Dated January 15, 2013 Read More



Carla Weideman: Achievement and ExperienceWeidemann

Many would say that acting isn’t for introverts. In grade school, Carla Weideman was quiet and shy. A passion for classical literature and theatre gave her the confidence she needed to step forward, find her voice, and become an accomplished performer.

Those who can, take center stage.

Carla Weideman, junior acting major, took her first acting class in 7th grade. “Before that, I was super quiet and shy,” Weideman said. “In the acting class, I became more alive and felt more like myself.”  In high school, Weideman was involved in a small literature-based theater company in the Twin Cities. They performed works of Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and Anne Frank. This experience fueled her passion for theater.

UMD’s theater department impressed Weideman. She gives credit to UMD for helping her grow and discover herself. “I have been able to act in plays in a lot of different styles, from experimental to the classical,” Weideman said. “The program has helped me develop a wide range of acting skills.

Weideman is the recipient of UMD’s Erwin and Beverly Goldfine Scholarship for Academic Excellence. The Goldfine Scholarship was established in the name of the late Erwin L. Goldfine, Duluth business leader and a regent of the University of Minnesota for 12 years.

The scholarship recipients are in the top five percent of all the students in their college and are selected by the dean on the basis on their academic achievement and leadership experience.

Dated January 7, 2013 Read More



Yellow Tree Theatre | Jessica Lind Peterson & Jason Peterson Yellowtree

UMD graduate Jessica Lind Peterson chased her dream of acting and writing from Duluth, Minn., to New York City. Jessica and her husband, Jason Peterson, who is also a UMD graduate, were successful in finding work as actors in the city that never sleeps, but they still longed for a more secure, nurturing environment as artists.

And it was, Osseo, Minn., became the place where they created the artistic home they had dreamt of; Peterson and her husband transformed a strip mall into a warm, inviting space that became the Yellow Tree Theatre.

As founder of the Yellow Tree, Peterson is always busy and never bored. She oversees all press and development for the theatre, social media, copywriting, and educational programming. She also writes press releases, email newsletters, grants, and meets with donors and board members. When she can find the time, she reads new plays or works on her own writing. When there’s a show going on, she oversees the box office, house managing, and mingles with the patrons. “I love my job because each day is so different. I get to be around artists all the time and produce theater that I believe in. I get to utilize both of my passions: writing and performing,” Peterson said. “As a playwright, it's a dream to have an artistic home for my work. As an actor, I get to choose my own roles and give my creative input into our season. It's wonderful to have found a way to make a living doing what I love.”

Dated December 23, 2012 Read More



Faith Engen: Tours with ElmoViolette

Millions of children dream to sing and dance with the Muppet characters in Sesame Street's world. Faith Engen is reliving her childhood memories by performing with Elmo, Big Bird, Cookie Monster, and Ernie. She uses music and education to tell children about friendship, diversity, and basic educational skills.

Those who can, use their talents to teach.

Faith Engen is a Bachelor of Fine Arts musical theatre performance major with a dance minor. Engen is currently part of Sesame Street Live, a live touring show, based on the children’s television show Sesame Street. It is produced by the Minneapolis-based VEE Corporation.

Engen learned about the opportunity through her teachers at UMD. She submitted a video audition of her dances, two contrasting songs, and an up-beat monologue. After about a week, she was asked to produce a second video. That time, the casting staff asked Engen to sing two songs from two different tours. “When I finally found out that I was on the 'Elmo Makes Music' tour, I was thrilled!” she said.

Engen said she came to UMD because she did not want to be just a number and knew that she would get one-on-one attention. UMD prepared her as a performer and a professional. “My training gave me confidence in my audition," she said. "I knew exactly what to do for the video audition to show the casting director the best of my abilities.”

Dated December 12, 2012 Read More



The Band Portage Portage

Native to the cold, northern shores of Minnesota, Portage bellows a sound reminiscent of the rootsy-folk music that runs as deep in the region as Lake Superior itself, the inspiration behind their attic-recorded debut album, The Unsalted Sea. Since their move to Minneapolis, Portage can be found howling their intimate lyrics at full volume from stages and living rooms alike. With the release of their sophomore album, Landings, these four young men put on memorable shows that can make even the bitterest Midwestern night feel warmer.

Portage’s second full-length album builds upon their practiced somber melodies and soul-filled ballads. From the onset, Landings boasts a louder, rock-influenced sound, filled to the brim with solid harmonies and vast, well-defined instrumentation.

Landings was recorded at Crazy Beast Studio in Minneapolis with engineer Ben Durrant, putting Portage in the company of many notable artists, including Andrew Bird, Dosh and Roma Di Luna.

"Portage" is a band made up of former SFA students Trent Waterman, Jason Hildebrand and Adam Rosenthal; check out their musical talent and support their offical album release on Tuesday, Nov 27.

Dated December 12, 2012 Read More



Theatre Director | Curious Theatre, Christy Montour-Larson   Larson

Feast or famine, that might describe the rhythm of work for a theater director in this town, says Christy Montour-Larson.

At this moment, however, the diminutive dynamo is enjoying a banquet and sharing it with local audiences. For the first time in her Denver career, she is about to have two plays running concurrently.

Saturday night, Donald Marguiles' contemporary drama ;Time Stands Still” opens at the Curious Theatre. Her finely fluid production of “The Giver” based on Lois Lowry's chilling children's book, was presented at the Denver Center's Ricketson Theatre this past Nov.

A play for children and their chaperons about the lures and dangers of utopian societies and a drama about a photo journalist who returns home to her lover (also a journalist) with wounds visible and not, these are precisely the kinds of challenging works Montour-Larson loves taking on. (Article written by Lisa Kennedy, Denver Post)

Dated November 15, 2012 Read More



President and Founder | 3five Designs, Martin Sawinski   3fiveDesign

Many people try building their own businesses and fail. They don't realize it takes more than knowledge of your craft. Passion, drive and a creative spark will get you to your destination; but standing out in your community as "elite" is a tough task that few accomplish.

Those who can, are driven to succeed.

As president and founder of 3five Designs, Martin Sawinski built his design and marketing firm to raise the bar — to provide clients an opportunity to be recognized in the marketplace in a way that sets them apart from the competition. His business provides unparalleled graphic design, web development, mobile apps, email marketing, print & digital products, as well as a full gamut of design and marketing services.

Trained in graphic design and studio arts at the University of Minnesota Duluth, this perpetual opportunity-seeker and world-traveler works to improve the community in which he lives and pursues his livelihood. In 2009 he was recognized as Fuse Duluth's "Person of the Year" as a young professional who both flourishes in business and gives back to his community. Shortly thereafter, Martin was named one of the Duluth News Tribunes 20 under 40, to recognize his commitment to making Duluth a better place through social entrepreneurialism, supporting his peers and vision for a diversely prosperous community.

Dated September 20, 2012 Read More



UMD BFA Student breaks into the New York Acting Scene | Steven Grant Douglas   Violette

Steven Grant Douglas plans to go on a road trip to New York after his final semester at UMD. But it’s not just any road trip; his destination holds the first big acting job of his post-graduate career.

Douglas completed his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre with an emphasis in Musical Theatre and a Dance minor this month. With his degree in hand, he will travel to Syracuse, N.Y. where he will live and work for the summer with Adirondack Lakes Center for the Arts’ Summer Theatre Festival.

Over spring break, Douglas made the trip to New York City for auditions. While he was there, he saw a listing for an audition he hadn’t scheduled. It was by appointment only, but he decided to give it a shot. To his surprise, he received an email back 20 minutes later.

“The next day, I went to the audition. I only sang 16 bars for them—one song. I only had 45 seconds of music to be like ‘Here, this is what I can do,’” he said. “They called me back on Friday, and on Monday, I got the offer.”

“The Senior Musical Theatre class is so intense and so stressful at times, but it really does just prep you for being out there,” he said. “The class is designed to give you the tools that you need in order to demonstrate your abilities in a ton of different styles at a very short notice.”

Douglas appreciates the faculty’s genuine approach. “They’re honest, and they’re caring, and they give so much,” he said. He also values the experience he had in collaboration with new directors. “Working with Michael Perreca during The Foreigner was just an amazing experience. He became a coach for me. I was also given another great opportunity to work on The Miracle Worker and take classes with Lee Gundersheimer,” Douglas said. "The fact that UMD brings in these guest directors, both from New York, is huge."

Dated September 15, 2012 Read More



The Avengers Film: UMD Graduate, Kevin Kiemen Interns on Set   Violette

Imagine being a part of the Hollywood magic in producing and directing a Blockbuster movie. UMD graduate Kevin Kiemen ('12) spent his 2011 summer on the set in Pittsburgh, Penn., as a Production Assistant (PA) for Director Joss Whedon. Whedon is popular for directing Sci-Fi’s Firefly and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Kiemen was able to join Whedon and the crew as an intern for The Avengers movie, beginning the preparation of his dream career as the next big film director.

“UMD and the theater department have given me the confidence that I never thought was imaginable. The professors helped me throughout my career in college; from teaching me to work hard to being professional, while sticking true to my personality. I am truly glad that I went to UMD; I couldn't see myself having been a student anywhere else.”

Dated June 1, 2012 Read More



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