UP introduces peer advisors program

This fall, the Office of Undergraduate Productions, or the OUP, launched a new program that will give students formal opportunities to mentor other undergraduates working on theater productions.

The OUP created eight work-study positions to recruit the “Undergraduate Production Peer Advisors,” whose areas of expertise range from lighting to scenic design, said Rorie Fitzsimons, the senior technical director of the OUP. The Peer Advisors, who had to apply for the position through a standard on-campus job application, will be available to assist any students who want to stage theater productions by holding weekly “office hours” at the OUP’s facility and providing their contact information for support at other times. Peer Advisors who are on duty a given weekend will also visit each show as it “loads in” to its performance space, providing tools and advice for preparing for the next weekend’s performances, Fitzsimons explained.

This initiative reflects an ongoing effort by the OUP to change how students view the organization, Fitzsimons said. In the past, some students have seen the OUP as a group solely interested in enforcing regulations rather than in helping them achieve their creative goals.

“We’re not disciplinarians … We want to know where [students] want to go with this piece of theater and help them get there,” Fitzsimons said.

Last year, the OUP began to create formal, work-study roles for students through the House Manager program, which gave undergraduates the responsibility for ensuring that student productions follow fire and safety codes. Prior to the creation of the House Manager program, UP’s role was primarily to check that students followed and understood the specific safety rules of the space they were using. The very nature of the OUP as a regulator, however, means that the body’s interest in engaging with students hasn’t always been clear, peer advisor Zeke Blackwell ’13 said.

“It’s hard to be the bad guy sometimes,” house manager Eden Ohayon ’14 said, citing instances where she and other house managers had to turn people away from shows to comply with safety procedures. “It’s something that one does not think about often [with theater] … it’s very artsy, but there are also pragmatic concerns.”

The Peer Advisor Program is a way of showing students that rule enforcement is only one of the OUP’s goals, Fitzsimons explained. Creating more formal roles for students to work within the office “generates that shift in thinking,” Blackwell said.

Student-on-student mentorship is also simply “how the most effective learning takes place,” Fitzsimons said. “It gives younger students an example of what they can accomplish.”

The House Manager program now follows a similar model, giving new participants the opportunity to shadow more experienced students as they work on a show, Ohayon said.

“It helps with the learning curve,” she explained.

The creators of the Peer Advisor program anticipate it to be particularly useful to students working on the less professional “pop-up shows” that take place throughout the year, Blackwell said, adding that these often have “very little framework … to work within.”

“It’s good to have a more official layer of student help,” OUP peer advisor Ethan Karetsky ’14 said. “You’re not just calling a favor from a friend, but from someone whose job it is to be there.”

Fitzsimons said he hopes the Peer Advisor program will also help mitigate the general shortage of experienced technicians on campus, especially with the rising number of shows going up each semester.

“People who are just starting out will see that there’s a positive structure in place to support them,” Fitzsimons said, adding that he hopes this will encourage more students to work in technical fields.

Yale Dramat member Javier Cienfuegos ’15 said the program will offer those working on more amateur productions a support structure comparable to what the Dramat already has in place. When it comes to technical experience, students are especially in need of guidance, since it is hard to pick up those skills without learning from someone who knows the field, he added.

In addition to providing technical support and training to productions already underway, the peer advisors hope to assist those who are still in the brainstorming stage, Blackwell said. The informal “office hours” in particular aim to help students at the very beginning of the process.

“[Students who] don’t have as fully fleshed out an idea might not feel comfortable going to an adult for help … we’re peers, we’re not meant to be intimidating,” Blackwell said.

Blackwell added that the fledgling program’s first challenge is publicizing itself, since the peer advisors will have no obvious way to reach out to shows that have yet to be announced.

The Office of Undergraduate Productions is located in the Broadway Rehearsal Lofts on Elm St.

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