By Miguel A. Gastelum
Fresno State’s Department of Theatre and Dance takes pride in its talented and dedicated students, who consistently demonstrate exceptional skills and passion for their craft. As another academic year draws to a close, we celebrate the achievements of three exceptional seniors who have successfully earned their Bachelor of Arts degrees in Theatre Arts from Fresno State: Cecilia Fisher, Madeline Nelson, and Mitchel Statler. These outstanding individuals are now preparing to embark on the next chapter of their artistic journeys by pursuing graduate studies in their respective fields.
As they bid farewell to their undergraduate years, these graduates are eager to continue their artistic development and expand their knowledge through advanced studies. With their diverse backgrounds and unique aspirations, each student brings a distinctive perspective to their chosen graduate programs.
Cecilia Fisher, who earned her Bachelor of Arts in Theatre Arts – Design/Tech, will be pursuing her Master of Fine Arts in Scenic Design from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Fisher credits her time spent working in the Theatre and Dance Scene Shop as a pivotal turning point for her future career ambitions.
“I started volunteering in the Scene Shop my freshman year before the pandemic, and I think my time spent there shaped my drive to continue pursuing Theatre as a career,” said Fisher. “I loved painting. For a while, I thought I was going to be a Scenic Charge after graduation. After my first design, I knew that I wanted to throw all of myself into designing (while also painting, of course). After some advice from a few professors, I interviewed with many grad schools through the URTAs convention, where I ultimately signed with UNLV. Thankfully, my assistantship will include painting in their scene shop, so I don’t have to choose between my passions!”
Madeline Nelson, who earned her Bachelor of Arts in Theatre Arts – General, will be pursuing her Master of Fine Arts in Theatre for Youth and Community at Arizona State University. Nelson was an avid performer in Fresno State’s 60+ year Theatre for Young Audiences program. It was through this participation that Nelson recognized where her passion for theatre would lead her.
“Had it not been for my time here at Fresno State, I would’ve never discovered my passion for theatre for young audiences,” says Nelson. “I received a good foundation to pursue that here at Fresno State, but I knew I wanted to learn more, making graduate school my next step.”
Mitchel Statler, who earned his Bachelor of Arts in Theatre Arts – Design/Tech, will be pursuing his Master of Fine Arts in Technical Direction at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Statler notes that his time at Fresno State helped him realize that he was hungry for a more thorough and in-depth theatre education.
“My time at State showed me that I have a strong desire to figure out how to do things better, especially when it comes to theatrical technical execution,” says Statler. “Fresno State helped me develop skills that I never would have otherwise. Those skills and my desire to figure things out made me realize that I am ready to continue my education.”
The faculty and staff made a positive and long-lasting impact on all three students and were pivotal in helping them find their artistic voice and solidifying their professional path.
“Every Theatre and dance professor and staff member helped me find my voice,” says Statler. “But I have the scene shop faculty and staff—Jeff, Mike, and Renee—to thank most for that.”
“Specifically, Jeff Hunter and René Nielson have helped me find my voice artistically,” says Fisher. “René and I have painted together for a couple of years now, and she’s taught me everything I need to know in order to be a successful painter. She’s the reason I scored a painting internship in NY, I’m so lucky to have her! After I took Jeff’s beginning scenic design class, he gave me the opportunity to design for our touring show. When he did, I thought that maybe he had the wrong person in mind for it. But I’m glad I said yes. He’s been nothing but supportive from then on and is the reason I’ll be in Vegas in the fall.”
“Working with J. Daniel Herring on the Theatre for Young Audiences tours is what really sparked my interest in this pathway,” says Nelson. “I’m not sure I would’ve known about the various outlets to pursue theatre as a career if I hadn’t participated in the TYA productions.”
All three students have goals to work or teach professionally after they complete their graduate education. While they know the road will be challenging and competitive they remain hopeful and confident that with the foundation of their Fresno State education, they can face anything head on.
“To any artists out there that struggle with being confident in their work—whatever you do, never quit creating,” says Fisher. “Everything you do is worth more than you can imagine, and your efforts will pay off! Good luck!”