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Celebrating 50 years of excellence in non-equity theatre, the Joseph Jefferson Awards took place this year at Park West in Chicago, Illinois, on March 25th. These awards celebrate achievements in performance, direction, music, choreography, technical design, and more. This year, the Jeff Awards spotlighted 144 theatre artists from across 32 companies with nominations in their 24 categories. The Theatre School is pleased to share that alumni, faculty, and students were nominated for 14 awards, and 6 of these artists won in their respective categories.

Among these recipients is Ethan Korvne, a sound design student at TTS graduating this June. Ethan received 2 awards for his sound design and original music in Tambo & Bones at Refracted Theatre Company. After finding theatrical sound design in high school, Ethan developed a passion for the operatic, the romantic, the strange, and the profound. He was on the production team for 13 shows during his time at The Theatre School and recently provided original music and sound design for Tambo & Bones and Short Shakespeare! Romeo and Juliet at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. 

So Ethan, you are a student from out of state and you found theatrical sound design in high school. How did you find DePaul, specifically The Theatre School, and what made you decide on TTS?

I kind of did theater on a whim in high school, which is a theme of my life because I also discovered The Theatre School on a whim. I was having a really hard time with my college search. I remember my dad was helping me comb through all kinds of different schools looking up like, “Best Sound Design Programs for Theatre,” and he was like, “Oh, look at this, the school my former student went to has like a really, really top-notch sound program.” So, I sent in an application, and just from the interview, it was really clear to me that the emphasis was going to be on two things not a lot of other schools provided: experiential learning and education. The shows are the school and the school is the shows and it's all one thing as opposed to taking classes and also doing shows. The other emphasis was the city around you. I was intrigued by the idea that at TTS, the goal is to get you situated before you even graduate in the community where the school is so that rather than thrusting you out into the world after four years, you've already got those connections. Those were the two things that really sold me and both of those things served me very well. 

I would agree that a big reason I chose this school is because of its location. I mean look at it [gestures to the skyline visible from the conference room]. This is a great city and school and I couldn’t imagine myself anywhere but Chicago. Well now that we’re wrapping up our final year at The Theatre School, how do you feel your time here as a student has shaped you into the artist you are today?

I think the biggest factor that is at play here, because I can only speak for what it's like in the design program, is that there's an emphasis on the shows that you do—which are quite complicated—and the professional scale “stakes.” The goal is to mimic the environment you're going to go out in, but with a safety net, for you to make mistakes and learn. That professional expectation while also allowing you to experiment is huge because it makes everything so much easier to digest once you leave.

I’d have to agree. So, you’ve talked about your skills and having that mentorship format. Some more “organizational” values. I’m curious what the artistic side looks like for you. What does your artistic process work into a show?

A group of actors stands center stage. Stars are projected behind them.
A Wrinkle in Time at The Theatre School at DePaul University's Merle Reskin Theatre. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
First off, I think it's important to mention that one of the unique things about what I do is that the organizational and, you know, the purely technical side is tied completely with the artistic side. So there's never really a time where I'm thinking about only one thing over the other. But if we isolate the artistic side, for example, last year, I did the music and the sound for A Wrinkle in Time. Right off the bat, it was clear that what we needed to achieve was a score that was always present in some manner, and that was going to be a large musical undertaking because the show was about 90 minutes long. The score required a lot of input from the other departments. That part of the process is probably my favorite part of the process: the dreaming phase. That kind of collaboration is what I think every production meeting should feel like. Then there's this period of time where I have to basically sit in front of my computer, or whatever instrument I'm doing this on and figure out melodic ideas that will support the show. Solitude, you know, is artistically stimulating sometimes, but the part of the job that I love is getting into tech and putting it all back together. And most importantly, putting it into the stage manager's hands. I can provide whatever I can come up with, but if it can't be done live on the stage manager's direction based on the actions of the actors, it doesn't matter. I’m trusting the actors and the stage manager and they are giving me something back, and that part of the process is the greatest.

I think it’s great that you lead your sound design process with collaboration and trust. Those are two qualities very inherent to the theater, but it’s also a skill set everyone should have. And you never realize just how important it is until it’s not there. 

Yes, definitely.

When you have that healthy relationship, it can really make everybody in the room thrive and everyone in the room feel able to create something that they're proud of. It’s so important. 

For sure.

With that, since working on all these productions through TTS, is there anything about first-year Ethan, or maybe even little Ethan maybe even maybe surprised to learn about fourth-year Ethan?

I've given this a lot of thought this year. By far the biggest aspect of my personality now that this experience here has shaped that first-year Ethan or even fourth grade Ethan would be shocked about is the way it has improved my social skills and my confidence. I was extremely introverted and shy for a lot of my life. It wasn't really until the end of high school that I got to a point where I even understood the concept of trusting in your own abilities enough and presenting yourself as a really extroverted magnanimous person. In the back of my mind, I knew I had to present myself as someone who you can work with and someone who is really talkative and funny and loves to interact with other people because it was the truth, but I just didn't know how to show that. But after my four years here, I don't feel like I'm that way at all. I think it's really changed the way that I see myself through other people. It made me understand that people in this industry just want to work with nice people. It doesn't matter if you're super extroverted or really shy if you're somebody that people want to work with. From introvert to extrovert in four years is no small feat, but it's true.

I'm glad you were able to recognize that you've always had confidence, and it’s great that you're now able to express that.

Yes, there’s a lot more confidence.

In terms of being someone who's great to work with… Ethan, you won two Jeff Awards for Tambo & Bones at Refracted Theatre Company. First, congratulations. That's so amazing. 

Thank you!

It's not often an active student is nominated, but also receives two Jeff Awards. How do you feel kind of walking into post-grad life with this under your belt? 

Anybody who saw it knows that it was truly unlike any other theater experience that a lot of people have had, and as a person who is very cynical about that sort of buzz marketing, it was truly unlike anything you've seen. To go work on my first really big professional show, that’s a total 180 from anything I'd ever done… it was really valuable in terms of the recognition for it. The only thing I want to come out of that recognition is for people like directors and production managers to know that, that somebody has seen my work and decided that it was of the quality that deserved those awards because something that's difficult as an early career designer—arguably the most difficult part of leaving school and trying to do this—is getting your name out there. You can only make so many connections while you're busy with schoolwork and doing shows here for four years. Tambo & Bones in general won so many awards, so I appreciate that they recognized the show as something incredibly special. It was done by a theatre company that is brand new to Chicago, and that says something about what we do as storefront theater people. It doesn't matter how many years your company has been around. If you do something that matters and tell a story that matters, you will get recognition for it. 

That's great. Thank you for sharing that. I do think there's often a lot of pressure put on awards, but I also think—because I've been your friend for so long—it was really exciting to be like yay Ethan!

That was the best part of it was everybody I know reaching out to me and congratulating me. I mean, who does not love that? That's a really special feeling to know that people care about your success.

There's a support circle. Particularly within the TTS community, because it's a conservatory and we've been around here for so long, you get to know people very well. And even if it’s just a quick text or a small chat in the hallway congratulating you, that still means something. I think everyone's always kind of rooting for everyone.

Yes, yes. In the end, we all want to see each other succeed because it's so hard for anybody to succeed. So like why? Why try to step on top of other people trying to succeed when they're doing the same thing as you are?

Definitely. I do have one final question. How are you planning to wrap up your time at TTS?

This year, I was in a position where I felt like I could start crossing between my school life and my professional life. Hence why I've been able to do Tambo & Bones and Romeo and Juliet at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. It also means I have more time to pass things on to the second and first-year sound designers because I want to see them succeed in ways that they might not even know are possible. Something that's really important to me this year is hearing where they want advice and giving it freely. My time wrapping up here is all about passing the baton and making sure that the second and first years are set up to have just as good, if not better, experience than me.

That’s very sweet. Ethan, thank you so much for doing this interview.

I really appreciate it, thank you for having me. It's so nice to do this after our long friendship and just talk about what the hell we did for four years.

I look forward to seeing everything you do before we graduate, after we graduate, and everything in between.

Same to you, my friend. 

To listen to more of Ethan’s work, including his sound design and original music for Tambo & Bones, go to

Grace Archer stands on the yellow stairs and wears a white dress with a red graduation sash
Grace Archer
Grace Archer is a graduating Theatre Arts student with a double major in History from Flower Mound, Texas. Previous credits include Strawberry Jam (Director) Is God Is (Asst. Dramaturg), When Did the Sky Turn Purple? (Playwright), Indebted (Dramaturg), The Sixth Festival (Guest Director), Las Wavys (Asst. Director), Straight White Men (Asst. Director), One More for the Road: Hit and Run (Stage Manager), and Welcome to the Fruit Basket (Ensemble). Grace currently serves as the Managing Director for Prototypes, where she follows her passion for new works. She looks forward to continuing her passion for directing, writing, and arts & culture administration in Chicago.