Press Release – Director of Opera Studies and Associate Professor at University of South Carolina School of Music Ellen Douglas Schlaefer received USITT’s 2017 Wally Russell Professional Mentor Award at USITT 2017 in St. Louis.
“Receiving the Wally Russell Award was very unexpected,” Schlaefer said. “To say it was a humbling experience only begins to capture my feelings…such an honor!”
Schlaefer served as production manager for The Santa Fe Opera from 1987 to 2000 and for the Washington Opera from 1986 to 1994 before her position at USC. Additional stage managing credits include productions with Seattle Opera, San Diego Opera, the Opera Company of Philadelphia, The Washington Opera, Opera Omaha, Opera Pacific, and the Merry Go Round Playhouse.
She is the third person to receive the award created in memory of Russell, a beloved figure in lighting and theatre technology who helped many people get their start in the industry.
The Wally Russell Award honors someone who embodies the guiding hand that Wally Russell provided to many young professionals.
“Ellen leads by example and therefore is a wonderful mentor and teacher,” said Paul Horpedahl, Production & Facilities Director at the Santa Fe Opera. “She instills in her assistants, production assistants, and interns her own devotion to care about their stage management process and concern for the final product.”
Schlaefer is the founding and General Director of FBN Productions, Inc., Opera for Kids, a professional touring company established in 1994 that takes operas into schools, libraries, and other venues throughout the Southeast.
“There are now generations of opera administrators, stage managers, directors, and singers who have graduated from the Schlaefer school of creativity, wit, and preparedness through planning, tenacity, and respect of an art form we are honored to serve,” said Ian Derrer, General Director of Kentucky Opera.
Schlaefer has assisted many directors including, but not limited to, Francesca Zambello, Gian Carlo Menotti, Julius Rudel, and Sonja Frissell with productions taking place at The Washington Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Dallas Opera, Opera Colorado, and more.
Schlaefer also shared the stage with the Distinguished Achievers Award Winners panel and discussed her career amongst someone of USITT’s most notable members.
“Mr. Russell was loved and honored by his friends and peers and gave freely of his time and advice,” Schlaefer said. “It was a blast seeing so many of my friends at the St. louis Conference and to share the stage with the celebrated panel for the discussion.”
In the spring of 2004, Schlaefer was appointed Director of Opera Studies for University of South Carolina School of Music, where she has directed numerous productions and teaches undergraduate and graduate opera workshop courses, production classes, and student-designed independent studies in opera history and vocal literature.
“Ellen is one of the more committed faculty with whom I have ever worked-committed in equal balance to her art, her students, and her responsibilities,” said Tayloe Harding, Dean of University of South Carolina School of Music. “These commitments are the characteristics of a great mentor, and as Ellen possesses them in an inordinate supply, she emerges as a simply superb mentor.”
USITT, the United States Institute for Theatre Technology, is a national non-profit association for the live entertainment production industry. It provides hands-on learning, mentorship, and networking opportunities for emerging and working professionals in the backstage arts. Its Annual Conference and Stage Expo is the only complete production event in North America, featuring over 250 training sessions and 280 exhibitors of the latest tools and resources for creating live entertainment. More information is available at usitt.org.