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Prestel explores theatre management along with acting roles

Kayla Prestel’s Cornell theatre career included plenty of roles in the spotlight. But her special studies degree in theatrical entrepreneurship also gave her many experiences behind the scenes of theatre management, including everything from fundraising events, to board meetings, to educational outreach. She even found time for a (minor) career crisis during her junior year, followed by the best possible way for any arts major to reflect and regroup: a full semester soaking up the culture of London and Italy.

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Her resume includes lead roles in Electra, Defying Gravity, and Reasons to Be Pretty. Prestel, from Manitou Springs, Colo., also performed in several other Cornell mainstage plays, as well as in student shows on campus and professional productions in Iowa City through the college’s partnership with Riverside Theatre.

Immersive courses

But two of her most memorable Cornell courses allowed her to develop and explore a more complete range of talents. In her Solo Performance class with Ron Clark, each student had three weeks to develop and perform a 10-15 minute one-person show from scratch. In her Advanced Study course with Mark Hunter, she chose to research Commedia dell’Arte, a traditional Italian form of improvisational comedy featuring masks and stereotypical characters, then staged her own production.

“We invited an audience to the black box theatre—it was a big hit, and we had a blast doing it,” she said. “Not only did I learn a lot about this art form, but I shared the experience with seven other theatre students, and I now use what I learned to set myself apart from other actors when auditioning.”

Riverside Theatre partnership

Prestel credits the flexibility of One Course At A Time for enabling these types of immersive courses. She also values Cornell’s relationship with Riverside Theatre and said that this professional connection was a critical factor in choosing Cornell in the first place. Riverside’s founders, Clark and Jody Hovland, are both part-time faculty members at Cornell.

In 2009, she interned at Riverside’s Summer Shakespeare Festival, performing in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She also acted in a Riverside/Cornell co-production of The Diary of Ann Frank, co-directed a joint production of Cripple of Inishmaan, and spent a block conducting workshops for 8th graders along with Clark and two actors from Chicago as part of Riverside’s Willpower Tour. Her Riverside work also led to her first paid acting role in Working Group Theatre Company’s original production of The Toymaker’s War.

“It kind of snowballs with the people you meet and who come to see you perform. I now have a really great network in the Iowa City area,” she said.

1st Stage Fellowship

In the summer of 2010, Prestel deepened her knowledge of the work that goes into small theatre management during a Cornell Fellowship at 1st Stage in Tyson’s Corner, Va. Working directly with founder and artistic director Mark Krikstan, her main assignment was to perform research on the upcoming season and develop a compelling presentation for the group’s largest fundraising event. But she also found herself involved in many other tasks.

“The thing I’m learning is how many hats you wear in a small theatre,” she said. “At Riverside, Jody was taking home laundry after Cripple of Inishmaan. And at 1st Stage I had a hand in everything from brochures, to catering, to sweeping the stage at the end of the night with Mark.”

After graduation, Prestel will begin a one-year acting apprentice at Touchstone Theatre in Bethlehem, Penn.  But she is already looking further ahead.

“Sixty percent of me is more passionate about performance, but there is a big part of me that wants to be more on the arts advocacy and production side. In 20 years I could see being Ron and Jody—running my own theatre, directing and acting when I choose, and having the best of both worlds.”