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BYU students invited to join first ever undergraduate panel at ASTR conference

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From left to right, Greta Gebhard (PhD candidate University of Minnesota), Andrea Gunoe (PhD candidate University of Pittsburgh), Jessie Pew (BYU Theatre Arts Studies), Megan Sanborn Jones, Cameron Cox (MA candidate BYU), Thomas Jenson (BYU MDT).

The American Society for Theatre Research (ASTR) held their annual conference this past November 3-6 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

ASTR is a U.S.-based professional organization that fosters scholarship on worldwide theatre and performance, both historical and contemporary. A number of BYU faculty members—Megan Sanborn Jones, Wade Hollingshaus, and Adam Houghton—are all active members of the organization. BYU theatre scholars past and present enjoyed gathering at the conference and reconnecting. This year, the conference featured the first panel of undergraduate students invited to join. Two BYU undergraduate students, Jessie Pew and Thomas Jenson, had papers selected for the nationwide panel of ten and were given the opportunity to bring their research to New Orleans to workshop and network.

At the beginning of the semester, Dr. Megan Sanborn Jones reached out to several students and invited them to submit their work for the conference. Both MDT major Thomas Jenson and theatre arts and psychology major Jessie Pew were then accepted as part of the undergraduate working group and were given the opportunity to strengthen their critical writing skills in a professional setting.

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Thomas Jenson worked on a paper discussing the portrayal of race and immigration in the original West Side Story film, exploring historical and theatrical themes of what makes someone native to a country. Jessie Pew wrote about the portrayal of silent grief on stage, saying, “I felt very humbled and just very grateful to get that email that I was even being considered. I had been thinking about nonverbal grief on stage because of some plays I'd read recently and productions I'd seen. This was just a topic I was really passionate about, and I was really interested to see if it was a topic that professionals thought was worth exploring.”

Both Thomas and Jessie appreciated the chance to gain insight into the academic field of theatre, expanding their understanding of how to network and their scope of future career paths. Thomas expressed his interest in the mix between academics and theatre kids at heart, and enjoyed “how passionate people were and how invested they are in what they’re studying, as well as being able to get a sense of what these people are like and if I want to be one of them.” Jessie appreciated being able to remove the intimidation from networking, realizing, “Networking is just making connections, and the best way you can make connections is just by being yourself. It was a really cool opportunity that I am genuinely very grateful and a little amazed that I was able to have.”