Grad Story #23



 Grad Story #23



Larisa Netterlund,
MA, Theatre Arts


Can you talk about your journey to UND?

I’m originally from Devils Lake, ND. I have always been involved in theatre arts - since I was 7 years old. I did my undergraduate degree in Northwestern College in St. Paul, MN. My undergraduate major was originally Journalism then I realized - I don’t really like to write! So it probably was not a good place for me. I was afraid to take theatre as my major, as it didn’t seem practical to me. But my advisor told me most people don’t get a job in what they major in, so maybe you do what you love. So I did it and I loved every minute. I realized I couldn’t go through life without having theatre as part of it. I was so inspired by my professor and decided that I, too, would like to teach – so that was my goal. Then I graduated, spent some time working and got married. My husband is in Communication, and we were looking for a place where we could go to school together. And so we came to UND!


Were you working in theatre during that time?

I was doing all different things in between that used my Theatre Arts background, like speech coaching in colleges and high schools.


This is one of those disciplines that really gets into your blood. And since you’ve been involved since you were 7 years old, have you tried your hand backstage or stage management?

I have done a lot of things. I’ve not done as much set-design as I’d like to. I just don’t have the skills. But, I have tried it all. Acting is a still a passion, but I found directing is the thing I love most. It’s so interesting.


You have now completed your Master of Arts degree and our grad program draws on many areas including design, directing, playwriting, technical theatre and the like. Given that you are mostly interested in directing and acting, do you find that one benefits the other?

Definitely, knowing every aspect of theatre is important for everyone. I taught Acting 1, and to learn every aspect of it I encouraged students to get involved in backstage too, to understand what supports an actor, or director. There is more to it than just the actor and director. And as a director it is important to be able to communicate with everybody. We need to know what language a director or actor speaks to bring everybody into a cohesive unit.


As grad students, did you help each other out with their specific production or work together behind the scenes?

It really depends on the program and who was there at any specific time. Among the grad students, who were in the same year as I am, two of us were directing, one was acting and the other one was more academic, history and theory emphasis. We all supported each other, though none of us actually worked on each other’s projects. We all ended up working on different projects, but we definitely discussed things: “What should I do about this actor?, how do I talk to this person, what do you think about this designer and all types of things. We were pretty close that way and supported what each other was doing.


You recently directed Spoon River - an anthology.How do you approach a script and take it to the stage.

Actually, the writing portion of my thesis is about script analysis especially for non-realistic plays. Like Spoon River Anthology, it was collection of poems as monologues, there are no characters structures or plots as you recognize it. How do you dig in to script like that? That’s what my thesis was about, and developing a process to attack that particular script. For me it really depends on the specific script, and I develop a process depending on what I have, and take more straight forward approach to it. If not I will try to figure what to do about that particular script. For this particular script I wanted to push myself making it more physical production, tried to find other theories and methods of teaching and direction to make it more physical and approachable. For me, I read the script over and over to get the feel, the tone, its symbols and structures. For me it’s more intuitive. For others, they need to take notes and make graphs. I just read through and imagine it, and take from there.


What’s your preferred genre?

I like more experimental things, but not exclusively. I like a lot of different things. I have favorite playwrights that are realistic and not realistic at all. It really depends on the show. I like comedy, but I’m not good at directing them! It takes a special person to direct comedies, and I’m still working on those skills.


Have you had a chance to take your work outside UND to the community?

Yes, very much. Right after I graduated from my undergrad, it was a struggle because I was in Twin Cities, and there are so many theatres, but also so many directors and actors looking for work. Since I didn’t have a big resume, it was challenging to find anything work that would build my resume. But being in Grand Forks, there are lot of people who wanted to do theatre but don’t have actors or directors to do it. I was actually able to do a lot of things in those two years I was here.

I’ve directed for Thomson High School, in summer I directed Cinderella, and was able to premiere one of Kathy Coudle-King’s works at the Loading Dock (on UND’s campus) last year called Look Away. It was a nice experience to work with that play.


Have you had a chance to present your research?

Yes, I have presented few academic papers at the Graduate School’s Scholarly Forum at UND and the North Dakota Arts and Humanities Summit. Last November I presented a paper about violence as spectacle. It’s a good start for me to working into the academic world.


People tend to think of theatre as production, but if you look at it in an academic sense, there are so many different layers involved in it.

It is very different, and difficult, to get into the academic side. But I love theory. It was good to challenge myself that way with applying my Communications studies from undergrad, and being able to apply those aspects into theatre and drama. The academic and intellectual approach enriched my artistic work as well and made me think deeper about it. It gives different perspective rather than just my own.


Along that line did you have opportunity to take class from outside theatre or different department?

I took a class from Teaching and Learning department to improve myself as an educator (since I like to call myself an Artist Educator). This was a good experience to see different sides of academia, and to see where education research is going. There were elementary and kindergarten teachers in the class, but I was able to add a different element and share my perspective.


Can you talk about Region V Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. Where was it, who attends?

The conference is every year in January. Region V includes North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa and I believe Kansas. The department goes there every January. Throughout the year respondents come and respond to our art productions. They also choose nominees - kind of like an audition. I was nominee for my first year. I went to the festival and competed in two scenes in a monologue. I got to semifinal round, and it was such an honor. It’s a scholarship competition and the finalists get the scholarship money to go to the Kennedy Centre Festival in Washington.It is very exciting. The respondent for my thesis production was from Bemidji State. They come from all around and share their informed perspective.

It was exciting. I attended a week of workshops, and learned so much from it. There were faculty members, theatre artists, and designers from all around sharing knowledge. Teachers from all different worlds shared their experience - it was very intensive, and I learned so much from there in two weeks. It was really a good experience.


What would you most love to direct and where - imagining budget is not an issue!

The Crucible by Arthur Miller - it’s a classic. I loved it! I also love Chekov but it’s very difficult. It would definitely stretch my ability!


I guess the next question is, would it be a proscenium arch production or theatre-in-the-round?

I like black box, I love theatre-in-the-round and thrust, or any other design that allows for intimate theatre. Arena and thrust staging allow actors more naturalism, as you don’t need to worry about being open to public and voice projection begin forced.


What advice would you give to prospective student?

It is more work than a lot of people realize, especially at the graduate level, especially if you want to make living out of it. It takes so much work, and it never pays enough! Taking extra time to meet people and networking is so important. That’s why the festival is so important. You can meet faculty from all over the country and network with them. I can add them to my Facebook and say, I met you at the festival, I heard you are directing this play, I would like to get an audition, and so on.


Can you describe the difference between Theatre Arts at the undergraduate and graduate level?

I come from a small program; I always had good relationship with my supervisor, even in under grad. It is different in undergrad and grad level. The graduate degree is more academic and involves lot of reading, writing and critical thinking. The undergrad is pretty practical. I was expecting conceptual rigor, but people can struggle with that when they first come into the graduate program. It’s definitely intellectually challenging.


Susan Caraher


The Graduate School



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Susan Caraher, “ Grad Story #23
 ,” Grad Stories, accessed May 27, 2018,