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February 26, 2015

SVSU theatre alum influences arts scenes in U.S., abroad

Art Professor Kihata with studentBrett Elliott has been decided on his career path for some time: theater.

“If you can imagine doing anything else, then do it,” he said. “If you can't, then start running and never stop.”

Since graduating from Saginaw Valley State University in 2009 with a degree in theatre, Elliott has turned his pursuit into national and international success through his work with well-known theater companies in New England and Chicago. Currently, the Reese native is serving as executive director of the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center — also known as “The Kate” — in Old Saybrook, Conn.

Ric Roberts, SVSU professor of theatre, is proud of Elliott's accomplishments.

“We have had many outstanding graduates from our program, but Brett is seriously taking things to a new level, working with some of the top people in our industry,” Roberts said.

Elliott’s responsibilities at The Kate include overseeing the center’s various productions, which range from musical acts to viewings of both modern and classic movies. The Kate recently entered into a contract with Connecticut Public Television for a 6-part television series focusing on cabaret-style acts.  Elliott hopes PBS picks up the series.

“It’s been a great experience,” Elliott said of the new job. “I did a little work here before, and I’m glad to be back.”

He accepted the position in November after returning from Melbourne, Australia, where he spent one month helping adapt a tech-reliant take on Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure.” The updated version was known as “Since I Suppose.”

Previously, he was involved in staging an earlier production of “Since I Suppose” in Chicago, where he moved in 2012 to join the DePaul University/Chicago Shakespeare Theater Master of Fine Arts program. Only two people per year are accepted into this highly competitive program. He graduated in August.

“Since I Suppose” was a pedestrian-based live art event. The experience used screen-based digital technologies to guide participants through downtown Chicago, and later, Melbourne.

Elliott worked as project manager during his two years at DePaul and oversaw each part of the production and execution of the show.

“Essentially, anything that needed to be done to help create the artists' vision, I was tasked with finding a way to make that happen,” Elliott said.

Elliott discussed the technological aspects of “Since I Suppose” at the Theater Communications Group conference in San Diego last year.

The program director for the American Theater Wing, one of the most prestigious theater organizations in the United States, was at the conference. He was impressed and sent a film crew to capture the show’s production in Chicago. This became a part of a video series the American Theater Wing produces about new types of theater. That video is available online here:

International travel was a large part of Elliott's time at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. He traveled to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland, the largest theater festival in the world, as the company manager for a Chicago Shakespeare Theater World’s Stage Series production of “Cadre.”

At SVSU, Elliott did primary technical theater work and served as stage manager for many productions. He was named a Distinguished Theatre Scholar recipient.

SVSU hosted the regional Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival while Elliott was a student and on two occasions since. Both times, Elliott returned to serve as production manager.

Roberts said his former student “deserves every single accolade” received in his professional life.

“He was and continues to be one of the hardest working individuals that I have ever known,” Roberts said. “He has raised the reputation of our theatre program in many ways.”