Southeast Missouri State University senior Francesca Bucci of Gurnee, Illinois, told the Southeast Board of Regents today that Southeast made it possible for her to pursue degrees in two separate fields about which she’s passionate.
Bucci, a double major in mass communication, public relations option, and theatre, acting option, was inspired by her parents who worked in sales to pursue a degree in public relations. But she was also drawn to theatre, after a high school theatre teacher encouraged her to hone her talents at the collegiate level.
Finding a university that would allow her to study and take classes in two disciplines was initially difficult, Bucci said.
“I auditioned at a few schools, and every time I talked to a professor from their theatre departments, they were not happy with me. They told me, ‘Absolutely not. You cannot double major. It’s impossible with a conservatory degree,’” she said. “Then I came to Southeast and met Dr. (Kenn) Stilson (chair of Southeast’s Jeanine Larson Dobbins Conservatory of Theatre and Dance) and he said, ‘If you want to double major, you can find a way to make it work here.’ It was the first positive attitude that I had when touring a school.”
At Southeast, she found a second home where she could not only pursue her academic interests, but also flourish personally and professionally.
Throughout her time at Southeast, Bucci has used the skills and knowledge she’s gained from her courses to create new opportunities.
At the encouragement of her Southeast theatre professors, she founded a sketch comedy group called “Spork Nation” during her sophomore year.
“I was getting really down on myself as a performer, I thought I was losing worth as a performer, but I have a lot of teachers who wouldn’t let me settle for that,” Bucci said. “They told me this was an opportunity and to make something I wanted for myself. I put together a few people that I thought were funny, and we put together an entire sketch comedy show that semester.”
It was hard work, but worth it, Bucci said.
“I got a set designer, a sound designer and a lighting designer. We were up until 4 a.m. some nights putting everything together,” she said. “I edited our script about a thousand times. But putting up and producing that entire show and the feeling afterwards of ‘I did that’ was really cool.”
Producing the show and having the support of her professors, including Bart Williams, associate professor of theatre, who would review scripts, attend rehearsals and provide an outside, director’s view; Roxanne Wellington, associate professor of theatre, who encouraged her to always be her best; and Chris Haug, assistant professor of theatre, who granted her access to the Rust Flexible Theatre after hours to have a real space to rehearse and perform in; are experiences she is extremely grateful for and will never forget, Bucci said.
“Spork Nation” has since performed in the 2018 and 2019 Chicago Women’s Funny Fest.
“Bart is part of the reason that ‘Spork Nation’ even went to Chicago,” she said. “He has a former student that now runs a theatre in Chicago, and he arranged for us to meet. We talked, and she’s all about women in comedy and performing and making your own art. Getting to sit down and meet with her, I wouldn’t have been able to do that without Bart. And, Roxanne is just one of those teachers who is non-stop and will push you until the point where you are the best performer and person you can be. I’m really grateful for those teachers.”
In addition to creating “Spork Nation,” she also leads a student-improv group, “Dramatically Incorrect.” And Southeast’s Conservatory has also given her opportunities to perform and hone her craft, including several supporting roles in Southeast’s River Campus productions, and her first leading role in last year’s production of “Our Town.” Bucci also recently directed her first play, “Tony N Tina’s Wedding,” as part of the River Campus’ student productions this fall.
Southeast has also provided her opportunities to combine her dual interests in theatre and public relations. Under the guidance of Dr. Sarah Cavanah, assistant professor of public relations, Bucci was able to develop her public relations skills while supporting her acting and improv interests. In Cavanah’s classes, she was able to design a logo and promotional items for “Spork Nation.”
“She’s helped me realize some of my strengths and weaknesses on the mass media side to work on while also bringing in my love for theatre,” Bucci said. “Dr. Cavanah also helped me find an internship as a marketing and design intern at Stage773 in Chicago this past summer. She helped me find a way to combine those two things.”
Bucci, who will graduate from Southeast in May 2020, hopes to launch her career in Chicago. She says the University has prepared her for that next step.
“The best part about our theatre program is that these teachers don’t let you settle – they prepare you for the real world so you are well prepared and well-rounded,” she said. “A lot of schools will just pump out performer after performer. Here at Southeast, you’re doing crew hours, spending hours in the shop, taking tech classes and learning the administrative side. You don’t just leave here knowing how to do a dance combo, sing a song and act a few lines. They won’t let you settle for just one aspect of your career. They mold you into a well-rounded professional so you can head out into the real theatre world and get hired.”
The experiences and relationships Bucci’s formed have made Southeast a second home to her, and she’s becoming the person she is today because of her time at Southeast, she said
“I think that I’ve become a stronger person and business professional,” she said. “I think everyone matures in their time at college. I’ve gone from my freshman year of looking for acceptance from other people – especially in acting, that’s a really easy hole to fall into, looking to other people for that acceptance of you as a performer – and I feel like I’ve grown to the point as a performer that if I don’t get cast or if I don’t complete something, I don’t get down on myself because I’m confident in who I am as a performer. I think that’s a big thing that a lot of people have trouble finding. I’ll promote Southeast for the rest of my life. I’ve had hard times and good times, and now I’m confident in who I am as a performer. I’ve experienced a lot of things in four short years, and I’m the person that I am because of Southeast.”