MFA theatre grad receives national award in recognition of work with youth and community

After graduation, Kristina Friedgen is headed to Washington, D.C., where she has accepted the position of director of innovation and engagement at Sitar Arts Center. She will be working to develop an arts-based workforce development program for young people.


Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2022 graduates.

During her time at Arizona State University, MFA theatre graduating student Kristina Friedgen was awarded the Don and Elizabeth Doyle Fellowship in affiliation with American Alliance for Theatre and Education in recognition of her efforts in youth theater.

Each year the American Alliance for Theatre and Education selects a recipient for the national award who is “an outstanding graduate-level student of demonstrated artistic ability in the area of Theatre for Youth.”

“Her work innovatively combines research in arts activism, theories of social change, and contemporary mental health and wellness with cutting-edge thinking in justice, equity, access and inclusion to support compassionate and socially relevant exchange between artists and communities,” said Kristin Hunt, associate professor and acting associate director in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre. “Her commitment to equity shows in all she does, including her teaching, her substantial service to the school and her highly impactful efforts to expand arts access to students and community members across the Valley.”

Originally from Maryland, Friedgen had worked as a theater educator for 13 years before coming to ASU. She said her students helped her realize this was the right next step in her career.

“My students were a big part of me wanting to get my graduate degree,” Friedgen said. “I saw the incredible work my students were doing, and I thought, ‘I want to do more of this.’”

Friedgen knew she wanted to study theater devising, but wasn’t sure of the right university program. She looked into several MFA programs until someone told her, “You want to go to ASU and study with (Herberger Institute Professor) Michael Rohd.” She did some research and applied to the Theatre for Youth and Community program in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre. 

“I really wanted to have the most impact,” Friedgen said. “Once I saw the work that was being done here, I knew this was where I needed to be.”

She said visiting the campus and getting to know the people here really solidified her decision.

“What ASU had was community,” said Friedgen. “This was the place that really felt like home.”

During her time at ASU, Friedgen worked with undergraduate students as the director of two main-stage productions, including a fully produced filmed version of a new play — “Light Switch” — as well as her applied project production of “Everybody,” an innovative production applying her new collaborative model of theater of radical compassion.

In addition to the Don and Elizabeth Doyle Fellowship, Friedgen was named a Spirit of Service Scholar, received the Lin Wright Endowed Fellowship in Theatre for Youth and received a travel grant from the Graduate and Professional Association

She also received applied project funding and university graduate fellowships plus a Herberger Institute Creative Constellation Grant.

“The Creative Constellation Grant meant that I could take my applied project idea further than I would have otherwise,” she said. “A whole proof-of-concept project is happening because of that money. All of it meant I could have a better quality of life and that I was less dependent on my family. It was really helpful.”

After graduation, Friedgen is headed to Washington, D.C., where she has accepted the position of director of innovation and engagement at Sitar Arts Center. She will be working to develop an arts-based workforce development program for young people.

“Being at ASU has given me a lot of space to really understand what I want and where my skills can be applied,” she said. “The School of Music, Dance and Theatre is very inclusive. I know there’s still room for improvement, but I feel like people are listening and working to make change. That’s a required characteristic of places that I will be from now on.”

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

Answer: I can’t say anything necessarily changed, but my perspective got more informed and deeper. The biggest things for me were (Associate Dean and Professor) Stephani Etheridge Woodson’s community projects class and the classes I took with (Herberger Institute Professors) Maria Rosario Jackson and Michael Rohd all about creative placemaking and community and how community and arts work together toward social action. That was something I knew existed, but I didn’t know where it really thrived and what had been done. 

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: The biggest lesson I’ve learned from all of my teachers is all the different teaching styles. Kristin Hunt is my thesis adviser. Her teaching style is something that I would like to emulate in the future. She leaves so much room for exploration and play while also seamlessly scaffolding things. Even though you’re dealing with big, theoretical concepts, it feels very approachable and applicable. The way she sets that up has been a huge lesson for me. Her performance as research class really opened a door for me. That’s now where I am going with my performance work — thinking about how my directing work is feeding into my research. 

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Apply for everything and then be choosy in the acceptance of things. There are so many opportunities here. That advice has served me well. I’m not always good at the choosy part, but I’m getting better.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus? 

A: I like the “Pringles” (shade structures in the Galvin Plaza). It’s a nice outdoor area. And the Lyceum Theatre is my favorite performance space on campus.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: One thing that I’m personally interested in is how do we include more youth voices in democratic decision-making. We need to reframe youth responsibility to their communities. I think that if we have more youth voice in democratic processes and in the process of making decisions that affect the future, they actually have more investment in it. 

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