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July 13, 2017

Summer at Work: Theatre Arts Chair Mentors Students in Productions Across U.S.

When Pitt theatre arts student Danny Mayhak starred in a production of the off-Broadway hit “Violet” earlier this summer at Pittsburgh’s New Hazlett Theater, department Chair Annmarie Duggan watched him rehearse. As Duggan looked on, the musical’s director, Robyne Parrish, walked up to Mayhak and offered praise for how well he took suggestions: “I give you a note, and you are always doing it,” Duggan heard Parrish say.

Mayhak made a beeline for Duggan afterwards. She recalls him speaking to her in a semi-whisper, pleased that she had heard what Parrish told him: “‘I was so excited you were sitting there when I got that.’”

Annmarie Dugan, Peyton Moriarity and Danny Mayhak

Annmarie Duggan (left) worked alongside theatre arts students Peyton Moriarity (center) and Danny Mayhak (right) during the off-Broadway production of “Violet” at Pittsburgh’s New Hazlett Theater this summer.

Duggan’s work on “Violet,” as lighting designer, lasted a few weeks, but she is Mayhak’s academic advisor each fall and spring and has watched him perform on stage nearly half a dozen times. As an associate professor of lighting and stage management, Duggan’s specialty involves behind-the-scenes work, but she counsels her students about all aspects of theater.

And she has found that mentoring students in stage productions is her summer project, one that runs alongside her work as a theatre professional travelling throughout the country. In “Violet” alone there were three other current students, including one who worked directly under her (lighting assistant Steve Yates, along with production interns Peyton Moriarity and Dennis Sen) and one alumnus (set designer Johnmichael Bohach [A&S ’06]). She’s already seen that there’s a Pitt theatre alum in a production she’ll join in Tennessee, and she’s certain she’ll encounter others as she continues her travels.

“It was lovely to walk into a room and see we’re being successful on all fronts,” said Duggan of her “Violet” experience. “My job is not to give them notes publicly, but they will want me to help, privately.”

She concentrates on helping students to be theater professionals, she explained: “Make sure you’re where you’re supposed to be,” she urges them. “Make sure you’re making us proud.”

Her efforts, and those of the theater arts department faculty, in teaching and training a new generation of theater artists are paying off. Finishing the run of “Violet,” Duggan realized “these were students who were trained and ready to be there, so what I needed to give advice or give encouragement on was positive and minimal, and that is a testament to all the faculty who work with them.”

While actors are the most visible part of any play, stagecraft is crucial for making any production work, and she was happy to see her Pitt students take what they’ve learned in class into the wings and rafters.

“The design/tech areas are the foundation on which the performance stands,” Duggan said. “We are teaching our students at Pitt to make sure they can collaborate together to make the best of a production.” Her lighting students in particular are mastering an ever-changing landscape, with LED technology being infused further into stage lighting daily.

Duggan also noted that, here in Pittsburgh, Pitt students are competing well with students from nearby theater conservatory programs at Carnegie Mellon and Point Park universities. Pitt’s Department of Theatre Arts offers a broader liberal arts education than a theater arts conservatory program, “but we are also a pre-professional theatre program and it’s working,” she said. “Our students are in the room, and that’s a very positive thing.”

Meanwhile, her summer mentoring never stops. “I just got a letter yesterday from a student who graduated three years ago,” asking advice about graduate school, Duggan reported. Of course, her students text her with questions as well: “‘How would you approach this?’ ‘Is that really what my job should be?’”

One thing’s for certain: If these theatre arts grads follow Duggan’s path into teaching, mentoring will be a crucial – and rewarding – part of their job.


Marty Levine,, 412-758-4859

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