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Q&A: Why an MA in Theatre Is a Surprisingly Versatile Degree

After completing a master’s degree in theatre, one would assume the next logical step is to pursue a career, well, in the theater. However the theater industry is expansive, allowing people to utilize their education and training in ways that go beyond standing center stage. One example is Hallie Martenson who is both the communication director for FringeArts and a graduate of Villanova University’s theatre program. After wrapping up three weeks of exciting Fringe Festival chaos (she went to 20 shows!), Martenson sat down with us to discuss how she scored her dream job, the prep work behind the festival and her favorite upcoming shows for fall.

The 19th annual Fringe Festival just wrapped up. As the communications director for FringeArts, that must’ve been an exciting week! What specifically does your position entail?

Three weeks, actually!  And it has certainly been exciting.  As communications director, I act as a conduit between FringeArts and the public.  Primarily, and particularly during the Festival, my responsibility is to work with press on media coverage for the festival.  We had more than 300 features about the festival in Philadelphia news outlets alone, so as you can imagine, it’s a big job!

I’m sure! What kind of work was required leading up to the festival?

The Fringe Festival is absolutely massive, and FringeArts has a small staff. The lines between departments start to blur when the workload increases. And let me tell you, we work. FringeArts has attracted an incredibly capable, hard-working staff (including our Development Associate and fellow Villanova alum Sophia Barrett), which is the only way that we would be able to pull off something as enormous as the Fringe Festival.

There’s a lot of minutia involved with leading up to the festival. A lot of emails, sometimes as many as 100 in an hour. But it’s all worth it in the excitement of the first show. I made a promise to myself that I would see as many Fringe Festival shows as possible this year (20 in all!). It’s incredibly rewarding sitting in an audience of people who are blown away by the innovative art unfolding onstage and knowing that I am even a small part of that.

What upcoming performances are you most excited about?

The entire fall season is amazing! At the moment, I’m really excited about Holden by George & Co from October 8-17. Scott Sheppard of Underground Railroad Game fame is one of the lead actors. It plumbs the violent lineage of The Catcher in the Rye, which several infamous criminals such as John Hickley Jr. and Mark David Chapman used as a statement to explain their unfathomable violent acts. It takes place in Salinger’s writing bunker, where obsessed super fans are trying to force him to publish again. I’m expecting something visceral and surprising.

You completed a Master of Arts degree in theatre and a certificate in non-profit management at Villanova University in 2015. Would you say your position is kind of the dream job?

I would absolutely say that.  It was a brand-new position at FringeArts.  Actually, the first play I ever saw in Philadelphia was at FringeArts, before the restaurant was there.  It was just a gutted space with a theater.  And I fell in love with the work that FringeArts presents.  Villanova’s MA in theatre and certificate in non-profit management gave me a lot of confidence in my skills and knowledge, so I made the decision to go into the interview and be completely myself – no spin.  It was the most I had ever laughed during an interview.  It was the right fit.

I left them with a portfolio of some of my work, which had included custom SomeeCard knock-offs that I had created for a production of Fallen Angels at Villanova Theatre.  I sent a thank you note to the people that had been on the panel interviewing me, and the Marketing Director Dan Comly emailed me back to say, “I noticed you had Someeecards in your portfolio.  I’m a huge fan – here’s one of my favorites.” Needless to say, it was the place for me.

What experiences did you have in theater prior to completing your graduate degree?

I grew up in the theater. My mother was an actress, and my father was a theater manager (I somehow ended smack dab in the middle of their two career paths). I did a lot of it in college, and then helped run New Haven Theater Company in Connecticut for three years after I graduated.

How would you describe the Philly performing arts scene? How might it differ from other areas?

Oh, it’s wonderfully unique. The contemporary, experimental devising scene here is thriving, and there seems to be this contagious impulse to create original work. There are many people who do what I do, who work in a theater in a more traditional sense and also create their own work in the evenings. Sam Henderson, for instance (whose 100 in the festival was amazing, I forgot to mention), has a lovely acting career in Philadelphia, but is also a wonderful playwright. Philadelphia is committed to the talent that lives here. There’s a supportive atmosphere. Not to say it isn’t hard, it’s absolutely hard. But there’s this sense of “we’re all in this together.” Audiences here are voracious and intelligent and courageous. It’s an exciting place to create.

For more information about Villanova’s graduate program in theater or master’s certificate programs, click here.

This interview has been edited for length.