A look into one freshman’s jam-packed first year of college

by Britteny Johnson, Staff Reporter

INDIANOLA, Iowa — Meeting with representatives, learning about advocacy, traveling to Washington, D.C., and working on a lighting design all in one week, what else can one freshman do? Heck, what else can anyone do in a week?

Photo: Courtesy of Blake Carlson

Freshman Blake Carlson, a public relations and theater double major, has his eyes on the prize of his future with every step he takes in college. Carlson refuses to miss an opportunity and wants to make the most of them all.

Two of his most recent opportunities have been going to Washington, D.C., for arts advocacy and doing the lighting design for Theatre Simpson’s “Festival of Short Plays.”

Carlson attended the American’s for the Arts: Arts Advocacy Summit from March 20-21 on Capitol Hill, where he was trained on how to talk with senators, representatives about issues such as the funding the National Endowment for the Arts.

When the advocates made their way to the administrative offices, Carlson was used as a storyteller. He told the story of how he got into theater as a child and how it created a safe space for him, that without the National Education Association, there would have not been opportunities for him like there was.

“I reflected to the staffs and Congress members that not many people know that I am a pediatric stroke survivor, and I used the theater as a tool to feel more comfortable sharing that with people,” Carlson said. “I closed my story with the idea that I want my future to be in nonprofit work in arts administration. I want to create those same opportunities for people that I had, like safe places, places where they feel welcome.”

Carlson said that one of the biggest takeaways from the event was how easy it was to contact representatives. He said that he hopes others will start calling in and voicing their views, noting that most of the people you talk to are also college-age students.

For those interested in getting the word out about arts advocacy, Carlson encourages sharing the video “A Little Help From My Friends- Artists For The Arts” created by Jonathan Estabrooks on YouTube.

Carlson lives by the motto, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take,” and that is exactly what he has been doing both in Washington, D.C., and with the lighting design for FSP.

Carlson wasn’t sure if he was ready to take on such an opportunity, even with previously designing lights for three shows at a community theater in Spencer, Iowa.  After many upperclassmen encouraged him to at least apply for the position and realizing that with moving his work study from lighting crew to the Office of Admissions, he would not be as involved with lighting, he decided to take the chance and try.

Jennifer Nostrala, department chair of Theatre Arts, said that Carlson being a freshman never bothered her when helping decide who would get the leadership opportunities.

“I never even thought of being nervous regarding Blake’s assignment as the lighting designer for FSP.  Given that our philosophy in the department is that students learn by doing, it comes with the territory that a student will hold leadership positions for which they may have limited experience,” Nostrala said. “I did have a sense with Blake that he would take ownership with the assignment and really jump into the project.  This has proven to be true, and I think that his work will be an asset to the production.”

Carlson said during his time as a lighting designer, he has gained appreciation for his adviser, Rick Goetz, instructor of theater arts.

“He’s not going to give me the answer, but he is going to give me the tools I need so I can find the answer myself, which is great because then I still feel like it is my project even if I have to ask for help sometimes,” Carlson said.

When it comes to understanding his drive for arts management, advocacy and lighting, Carlson shows his passion for the things he loves through the vigor in which he speaks of them and the enthusiasm he has when asked about specifics.

Carlson thinks people should take every chance they are given.

“Take advantage of everything you can in college. A lot of people have said that I really hit the ground running. Well, that’s what I’m here to do,” Carlson said. “I’m here to take every experience I can. Life if about knowledge gained, not frivolous things you can purchase.”