Katie Keaton: For theatre major, all the world’s a stage

Sunday is not a day of rest for Katherine (Katie) Keaton.

From 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., the theatre major at the University of Maine rehearses dances for various projects and clubs.

“My friends know I’m not free on Sundays,” says the Caribou native who concentrates in scenic design and minors in dance and business administration.

“I get home tired and can’t move but I know I’ve worked out a ton,” says Keaton, whose weekly class schedule commences at 8 a.m. Mondays with ballet.

She’s used to being a mover and shaker.


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In addition to excelling academically and taking lessons at The Maine Dance Academy in her hometown of Caribou, she played three varsity sports for the Vikings. She was an all-star defender for the 2010 Eastern Maine champion soccer squad. Keaton also played basketball and tennis and worked at Houlton Farms Dairy Bar.

“We all grew up going there,” says Keaton of the local ice cream shop. “[Working there] helped me become more outgoing and learn about customer service in a fun way. Getting ice cream makes people happy.”

For Keaton, immersing herself in the performing arts at UMaine — both on stage and backstage — has made her happy.

In addition to her courses, she’s a teaching assistant for the hip hop dance class; president of the Hip Hop Club; president of the UMaine chapter of Alpha Psi Omega, the National Theatre Honor Society; co-founder of the Celtic Club, production stage manager for “Astonishing!,” the SPA fundraising pop orchestra concert, dance captain for the spring 2016 performance of “Urinetown” and has performed in numerous dance showcases.

This past fall, she also participated in the Dancing for the Stars Fundraiser to benefit seniors at an area independent living residence.

Keaton’s acting debut at UMaine came in a student production titled “At Sea” during an UnderDogs Showcase.

Much of the time, though, Keaton works behind the scenes and on the scenery itself.

Keaton’s a stagehand for the Collins Center for the Arts and unloads 18-wheelers and sets up and tears down professional touring shows that land at the nearly 1,500-seat center.

“It’s eye-opening; it’s so fast-paced,” she says about how quickly and safely a crew can set up and tear down a traveling road show.

And Keaton fills a number of roles with the School of Performing Arts. She’s a set designer and a member of the production team for UMaine productions. That, she says, can involve months of team meetings, design research, building models and sets, moving sets to the stage, testing of microphones and other technology and dress rehearsals.

“It’s magical seeing it progress,” she says.

Keaton’s evolving too.

In this, her last semester at UMaine, she’ll put forward as much of her own work as possible, including at dance showcases and recitals.

Keaton plans a career in the arts and she’s currently exploring artisan certificate and MFA programs in scenic design.

She says her business education and interests in innovation and entrepreneurship marketing will be beneficial if she decides to work in the administration side of arts.

And during her free time this semester, Keaton has been learning to play her ukulele, a Christmas gift from her sister.

Tell us about your family.
My family resides in my hometown of Caribou, Maine. My mother is the vice president of Aroostook Savings & Loan. My father is the director for Region Two School of Applied Technology in Houlton, Maine. My older sister, Emily is in her third year of teaching first grade at Limestone Community School, and is working on her master’s degree online at the University of Maine.

Why did you choose to attend UMaine?
The environment and sense of community that is created right here on campus is what influenced my decision to attend UMaine from the beginning. When it came time to start thinking about what I really wanted to study in college, I had one thing in mind: I wanted to do something out of the ordinary. I really wanted to take what I was passionate about and run with it. I had never done anything related to theatre in my life except for dance, but my love for the arts is what pushed me to go outside of my comfort zone and give it a shot in college. Orono is also just a short day trip away from home, and is one of the closest state schools that offers a reputable course of study in theatre and dance.

What drew you to theater?
I grew up playing sports and dancing all through elementary school up until I graduated high school. Being so active in dance really drew my attention to the performing arts by the end of my high school career. I danced at The Maine Dance Academy in Caribou, where we did a modern interpretation of “The Addams Family” for my senior recital. It was through this Broadway style of dance that I really gained an appreciation for musical theatre dance and theatre in general. I was apprehensive at first; not knowing if this was even something I could just pick up without any prior experience. What turned that apprehension into contentment was the welcoming environment and overwhelming amount of support from the Theatre/Dance Division here at UMaine.

What keeps you fascinated with theater?
I will never be able to see myself sitting still once I enter the workforce and that’s the great part about theatre; it never sits still. Especially with scenic design and dance, your work can be as literal or as abstract as you and the director want it to be. It is the unpredictability and beauty of the art form that keeps all of us fascinated with theatre.

Which class(es) have been especially influential and why?
I had been taking a bulk of my theatre classes right from the get-go, but it wasn’t until my sophomore year when I took Design for Performance with Daniel Bilodeau, associate professor and chair of the Theatre/Dance Division, that I found my niche. This class really sparked my creative interest in scenic design and opened so many doors for me. Having a fundamental background in design has allowed me to go on and design shows like “Crimes of the Heart,” “Godspell” and most recently, “Dog Sees God” (design in progress), all of which have been student-run productions. I have also been a guest designer for John Bapst Memorial High School for its production of “Footloose” last year. In the spring of my junior year, I took an introduction to scenic painting course with Dan again. This class really opened my eyes to the world of scenic painting that goes hand in hand with design. I quickly discovered my love for painting and really focused on building my portfolio with work from both my stage designs and painting projects. Having learned these skills as an undergrad, I was able to work at the Theater at Monmouth in Monmouth, Maine this summer as the scenic painting/props intern. I got to work alongside many talented and professional theatre artists from near and far and it was definitely one of the most memorable work experiences I’ve ever had.

Please share a bit about your experience as a 2014–15 CUGR Research Fellows Student Assistant.
I was so excited that Dan Bilodeau asked me to be an undergraduate research assistant for the 2014–15 academic year. I acted as his assistant scenic designer for the School of Performing Arts’ main stage production of “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” guest directed by Dawn McAndrews, producing artistic director at the Theater at Monmouth. Through this fellowship, I was responsible for meeting with Dan and Dawn to discuss visual research, themes/motifs that would be incorporated in the design for the show, building the scale model based on Dan’s sketches and renderings, assisting with the construction and painting of the set, and communicating visual concepts to the scene shop. Participating in the CUGR Academic Showcase later that spring was a new and very exciting experience. I took part in the poster presentations and was able to share my experience and more with faculty and students outside of the theatre department.

What growing experience(s) have you had at UMaine that has altered or strengthened the way you view the world/approach each day?
I am currently the president for the UMaine Hip Hop Club and cannot describe how fulfilling it truly is. I have been active in the club since my very first semester here at UMaine, but it wasn’t until I stepped into this leadership role that I got to see both ends of what it’s like to run a club and be in one. Working with my roommate, Vice President Annie Collins, and the other officers, to lead such a large group of dancers and create a very memorable piece for the most recent dance showcase was one of the biggest highlights of my college career. It has helped me grow in more ways than I could have ever imagined.

What are your educational/career/life plans?
I will be graduating in May and am in the process of applying to graduate/certificate programs for scenic design and scenic painting in New England. However, I’m not opposed to taking a gap year to work or get an apprenticeship in the field before pursuing graduate school, so I’m also searching for those opportunities as an option for next year. My overall goal is to work toward getting my MFA and either teach at the university level or work in regional theatre as a designer/painter. I’m also looking forward to taking the time to travel as much as possible after graduating.

What are your favorite activities?
Some of my favorite hobbies are dance (especially hip hop), running, thrift shopping, crafting, spending time with my friends and family and learning to play my new ukulele.

What else would you like to share with readers about yourself and/or your educational experience?
Support the arts!

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777