The Show Goes on for Alumna Elizabeth Soglin | WMU Alumni Skip to main content

The Show Goes on for Alumna Elizabeth Soglin

Elizabeth “Lizzy” Soglin is an alumna who deserves some mad props for her continued accomplishments in the field of theatre design and technical production. 

An example of Lizzy's amazing work at Kings Dominion Theme Park. 

Working in the production department at The Juilliard School and starting my NYC career in the Juilliard Prop Shop was a dream come true,” she said. “It is because of the world-class training I received and the opportunities I had at Western Michigan University that encouraged, motivated and allowed me to find success as a props designer and artisan so early on in my career.”

Describing her training as “world class” is no exaggeration. Just this past June (2023), seven WMU theatre alumni were nominated for Tony Awards. “It’s a good time to be a WMU theater grad,” Darren Johnston (B.A. ′09, Theatre Performance) recently told MLive. With his production company “No Guarantees,” Darren was nominated for several Tonys this year, including Best Play, Best Director and Best Costume Design for “Fat Ham.”

Lizzy (B.F.A. ′21, Theatre Design and Technical Production) had already made her decision to attend WMU when she was just a sophomore in high school.

“I went to the Illinois High School Theatre Festival, and I had some free time between seeing shows and attending workshops, so I decided to check out the College and University Exhibition Hall to see what was out there,” she said. “I ended up at the booth for Western Michigan University and met Sophie Scanlon (B.F.A ‘15, Musical Theatre Performance), one of the student representatives at the festival.”

“Sophie was so friendly and enthusiastic and spoke so highly about the University. I knew that if she was a representative of WMU, I would be in very good hands,” Lizzy continued. “I went home from the festival that weekend and told my parents I was going to study theatre design and technical production at Western, and I never looked back.”

In her own words, here’s more about Lizzy’s time and experiences as a Bronco:   

Were you involved on campus, and if so, how?

I loved being on campus and especially the Gilmore Theatre Complex, so I wanted to be as involved as I could be. I was a TA for two classes. The first was for Stagecraft I in the costume shop when I was a junior. In my senior year, I was the TA for Theatrical Rendering. I loved both of those classes as a student, so it was such a treat to go back and TA for them and getting to be alongside my professors (Kate MacKenzie and Kathryn Wagner) was an absolute delight.

I worked as the props assistant during my junior and senior years. The job entailed closely assisting other student prop masters on the pulling, creating, and purchasing of props and furniture for all the productions we did, as well as overseeing the organization and maintenance of the prop shop, inventory and furniture storage spaces. For most of my time at WMU, I was the only props focus, so this meant I got to share my knowledge and passion for props with technical directors, costume designers, scenic artists and others.  

Starting my sophomore year, I served as the president of the Student Advisory Board until I graduated. I was also on the WMU Theatre Student Recruitment Team, volunteered each year for new student auditions and interviews for the department and was a member of the Alpha Lambda Delta Honor Society.

Did you receive any scholarship or other financial support from the University for classes or other experiences?

I was incredibly fortunate to have received several scholarships, including the Edwin E. Meader Theatre and Performing Arts Endowed Scholarship. The scholarships I received allowed me to focus on my art, knowing I had some financial support.

What was a formative experience you had as a student that continues to influence you today?

When the COVID-19 pandemic caused us to shut down in March 2020, we hadn’t yet finished our season. We only had a single performance for Tribes, and our final show of the year, “Sunday in the Park with George,” wasn't set to open until April. Fortunately, the department was able to get the rights to postpone it until September.

I got back to campus a few weeks before class started to get the prop shop ready for the significantly altered year ahead. After I finished organizing the prop shop, I went upstairs and Patrick Niemi, the technical director, handed me the script for “Sunday in the Park with George” and said, “Get to work, we open in three weeks.”

The previous prop master for the show had graduated just a few weeks after the shutdown, so it was in my hands now. At that moment, I was kind of terrified. I had to prop an outdoor, masked, double cast, socially distant musical that I had never read the script for? In three weeks? Challenge accepted!

Every element of the show presented a new obstacle. Each prop had to be sanitized between rehearsals and the shows, as well as be weather/outdoor proof. Plus, the two leads were double cast, so I was making two, and sometimes four, sets of the same prop for our phenomenal performers.

I remember getting to our first tech rehearsal and seeing everything come together for the first time—props, costumes, lighting, sound, and of course, the actors and musicians. The creative team was sitting in lawn chairs in Miller Plaza on the most beautiful night. I was nervous and honestly pessimistic about how everything would turn out because of just how different this theatrical experience was from everything I had come to know.

I couldn’t have been more off base. It was spectacular. “Sunday in the Park with George” was the first time in months that we got our livelihood and passion back. I can’t express the amount of gratitude I felt getting to work on that show. Sitting with the creative team and my professors on those perfect Michigan nights, seeing our work onstage and watching my beautiful friends perform, are memories I will cherish forever.

Were there any professors or staff members who went above and beyond to help you succeed?

I was taught by the most extraordinary group of professors, staff and people I could have ever imagined. All of them left an indelible impact on who I was as a student and who I am now as a professional theatre artist. Three of my professors in the Theatre Design and Technical Production program, Dave Nofsinger, Patrick Niemi and Kathryn Wagner, were and continue to be some of my fiercest champions. They were incredibly supportive of me and my work in props, but they also pushed me and gave me opportunities to broaden my horizons, challenge me and learn new skills.

Chair of the Theatre Program, Joan Herrington, was also such a bright light. Joan looks out for her students in a way that is unparalleled. She was an advocate for all and cared for us so deeply. Joan was always there to be an open ear (and occasionally a shoulder to cry on) and an incredible role model.

Some of my favorite classes were those I took with Cheryl Bruey, Lofty Durham, Mark Liermann and Elizabeth Terrel. I looked forward to their classes every single day. They pushed me to embrace and accept the unfamiliar and just enjoy myself.

Little Girl Blue
Little Girl Blue at New World Stages (photo courtesy of Julieta Cervantes).

What’s happened with you since graduating from WMU?

Just a few weeks after graduating, I went to spend the summer working as a theme park decorator and scenic artist at the Kings Dominion Theme Park in Doswell, VA. I had so much fun that summer, and I learned so much and worked with a wonderful team. Then in September, I moved to New Jersey to work at the George Street Playhouse as the assistant properties master. In that role, I also had the great fortune of being part of the props team for the Off-Broadway premiere of “Little Girl Blue,” the Nina Simone bio-musical. 

In the fall of 2022, I began working at The Juilliard School as a props artisan as part of the Professional Apprenticeship Program. During the apprenticeship, I worked on over a dozen plays, operas, dance pieces and other performing arts events.

What’s your favorite campus memory?

I have countless campus memories, but there’s one that particularly stands out. During spring break of my senior year, I stayed in Kalamazoo to work on fully relocating all of our hand props from under the Laura V. Shaw Theatre into our furniture room down the hall, along with relocating our furniture and all other large props and set pieces that were in our on-campus storage spaces (outside of the Gilmore Theatre Complex) to an offsite warehouse that would contain everything. The move was exhausting and difficult work. Because we only had the week of spring break to get everything moved, there was a sense of urgency that filled me with the best kind of adrenaline.

There were 12 of us working on the move and it was like summer camp. In Dunbar Hall, we found a three-foot tall doll who had “seen better days.” We just knew we had to rescue her and give her a new life, which included hiding her in places to scare others who found her. She lovingly became referred to as “The Creepy Little Girl” and was brought back to her new home in the Gilmore Theatre Complex. For the rest of the semester, she was hidden behind corners, in the scene shop, the design lab, offices and more.

That spring break was so unexpectedly wonderful and continuing this little tradition the 12 of us were part of brought me so much joy.

What advice would you give current students? 

Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts
Feather fans at the Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts (photo courtesy of Scott Michaels).

Everything I can think of really boils down to: Have fun and enjoy every minute. Take pride in your work! Be passionate in all that you do; you will be better for it. There will be times when it feels like the weight of the world is on your shoulders, but know that feeling isn’t permanent. Ask for help when you need it—your professors are here for you! Treasure the time you have with your friends and try your best to leave college without regrets.

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