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Vicki Whooper '11

Vicki Whooper chose Dominican in part because, for the Bellwood, IL native, it was close to home. But her experience as a theatre arts major prepared her to explore opportunities beyond her imagination—from a summer acting gig on Navy Pier all the way to pursuing a master's at the Yale School of Drama.

"Yale wasn't even on my radar when I started here at Dominican. Graduate school was on my radar, but I didn't know where," Whooper says. "It wasn't until my experience with new things here, especially stage management, that I started looking for programs, and Yale popped up.

"I definitely feel prepared for Yale. When I went there for an interview, I got to sit in on a class, and I was able to answer questions that some of the graduate students had a hard time answering. That made me feel like this is the right step for me—this is what Dominican prepared me for, and I can handle it."

According to Krista Hansen, assistant professor of theatre arts and artistic director of the Theatre Arts Lab Series, Dominican's program challenges students to gain experience in all facets of a production.

"A lot of times when you're working on a show, the performance people work separately from the technical people, but that's not how we operate here. We believe that it's all one product, it's all one family, and we should be working collaboratively the entire time," Hansen says. "As a result, our graduates leave here with experience in a lot of different fields, and they're well prepared to move on from here and succeed."

It didn't take long for Whooper, a graduate of River Forest's Dominican-affiliated Trinity High School, to dive into that experience.

"I'd become part of the Dominican tradition in high school, and it was such a part of who I was and who I was becoming that I didn't want to break away from that," she says. "I remember taking a tour, and it just felt like home as soon as I stepped on campus."

She says her professors, especially Hansen and Bill Jenkins, associate professor and technical director, welcomed her before she was even accepted as a student.

"The response I got from the department was wonderful, before I was even enrolled. I remember emailing Bill Jenkins a question and he got back to me right away, and I hadn't even been accepted yet. Knowing that I was welcome is what sealed the deal for me," she says.

After enrolling, she immediately got involved with productions and undertook her first experience in stage management as a sophomore. At that point, she fully began to realize the benefit of working alongside professors who don't just have a textbook knowledge of their fields but who also bring real-world experience to their teaching.

Before joining Dominican's faculty in 2003, Jenkins worked as a professional set designer and technical director who helped produce more than 300 professional performances at theaters throughout the United States.

Hansen also joined Dominican in 2003 after many years of acting, directing and producing professional theater. Both Jenkins and Hansen continue to work in Chicago's theatre scene, and both regularly invite working professionals to give guest lectures and workshops in their classes.

Off-campus, Whooper gained experience through a stage lighting internship with Oak Park Festival Theatre, a professional equity theatre company located just two miles from Dominican. She then spent a summer as a performer on Chicago's Navy Pier and, after graduating, landed a one-year stage management fellowship at Triton College.

"I got so much hands-on experience with professors who not only know theatre but who are still involved with it, and that helps a lot—to learn from someone who's still 'doing,'" Whooper says.