EC Alumni come home to the Mill Theater

Laura Matthews, an EC alum and adjunct faculty member, gives directions to senior Daniel Sanchez and sophomore Marissa Banker, two of the actors from the play “I and You.” (Photo by Stefan Carlson)

Most people’s EC experience ends with graduation. Every once in awhile they will come back to visit old professors or to cheer on the Bluejays at homecoming. However, a few EC theater alumni have returned to their old home at the Mill, this time as teachers and mentors.

Of the half-dozen adjunct faculty members in the theater department, a third are alumni. They do act lessons, teach classes, and direct plays. In fact, “I and You,” the Mill Theatre’s latest production, was directed by Laura Matthews, ‘11.

This was Matthews’ first time directing a play at EC. However, because she was an alum, the whole process went much smoother.

“I understand how the stage works,” she said. “I know how the space works. I know how the program is evolving and changing within its structure, and because I know everyone here I can ask for help. It’s very collaborative. I don’t know that I would’ve [directed the play] if it wasn’t like that.”

Rick Arnold, one of the theater faculty members who worked with Matthews when she was a student, noted that this collaborative atmosphere is possible because of the unique nature of EC’s theater program.

“We treat our students not only as students but as collaborators,” he said. “If it were a strictly student-faculty relationship, [alumni who return as faculty members] would fall back into that same relationship.”

Andrew Behling, ‘08, noted that it is very different being at EC as an adjunct faculty member than as a student.

“My relationships with the other faculty members have grown because I’ve grown. It is really a blessing [that] I have these old friendships.”

EC theater students benefit from working with alumni as well, noted sophomore Marissa Banker, who played Caroline in “I and You.”

“Laura definitely gets the fact that we have homework,” she said. “[She] is still pretty close to [when she was] in school, and she empathizes with the the fact that we have other stuff besides theater. She understands that it’s hard for college students to be off-book by the first week of practice.”

This relationship with students is another reason why alumni come back to work in EC’s theater department, as it allows them to give back to the program.

“I wandered into the theater on a whim,” said Andrea Trygstad, ‘12.“My mom died two weeks before I began college. No one on campus knew what I was going through. I had isolated myself. I needed something to do ... Rick Arnold saw my potential and drove it.”

Trygstad was so affected by the community she found in the theater, that she eventually changed her major from Exercise Science to Technical eater and Design, a decision she does not regret.

Although Trygstad is not a faculty member, she has kept in contact with Arnold and periodically returns to help in the theater. She was the guest lighting designer for “The Last Cyclist,” in April 2015 directed by Behling and she returned this fall to design the lighting for “I and You.”

“It’s different working as an alum,” said Trygstad. “As a student, I was learning and observing what I could, and now I get to do this for others ... Rick was my mentor. I hope to someday give students a taste of wisdom I got from Rick.”

“I and You” was the perfect opportunity for Trygstad to give back. She worked with junior Andrew Bhrel on designing the lighting.

“It was great to work with [Trygstad because of ] her experience,” he said. “She knew the space really well [from going here]. She is a very talented designer ... It was cool to see her experience and professionalism. It was interesting for me to see how [lighting] works, to see her ideas, thoughts and in-the-moment decisions.”

The theater alumni want to help the students not only because it is a chance to give back to the program, but also because it gives them an opportunity to provide students with the same quality of education they themselves received.

“I get what students are going through,” said Behling. “I don’t just get the college experience as an idea, but I know what it’s like to be here. I know the other professors and the assignments they give. I know EC’s social dynamic.”

Behling appreciates being a part of EC again.

“I find myself walking across campus and having blips of memory from when I was a student here. It’s kind of bitter-sweet.”