Melissa Brundidge ’15 is willing to go wherever it takes for her to reach her ultimate goal—to run lights for theatrical productions, big awards shows, or film and television shoots.

The Wisconsin native’s passion will probably take her to New York, California, or Las Vegas. But her first step was leaving her home state to study at Illinois State’s School of Theatre and Dance.

Brundidge, who graduated in May, knew she wanted to leave Wisconsin for college. She was impressed by Illinois State’s theatre program and the professors she met even before deciding to enroll.

“It sounds cliché, but it just felt like home to me,” she said.

Brundidge worked on several shows as a theatre and design production major. In her final year, she was master electrician on Cabaret at the high-tech Center for the Performing Arts, overseeing the lighting crew.

“It was a whole different experience at Illinois State,” she said. “It was just exciting to be able to go, move somewhere else, and experience some place different than what I experienced in high school.”

While big spaces like the School of Theatre and Dance’s set shop wowed her, she was equally impressed by the small-school feel of Illinois State’s compact campus.

Even when she moved off-campus to the nearby Uptown district, Brundidge was still just a short walk away from the buildings where most of her shows and classes were held.

“My parents liked knowing that I was going to be safe because I wouldn’t be traveling far distances to go where I needed to go,” she said. “It was so great being no more than 10 minutes from where I needed to get to.”

Because she was a resident of one of Illinois’ neighboring states, Brundidge was eligible for lower in-state tuition rates. She also earned a $2,000 theatre scholarship along the way.

What was the biggest challenge she faced as a student from the Badger State? Learning the lingo.

She caught some good-natured flak from her new Illinois friends for pronouncing words a bit differently—“bayg” instead of “bag”—and because she kept calling water fountains “bubblers.”

“That ended up being a way for me to connect with people,” she said. “You can kind of build a relationship with people off of that. It’s funny.”

Ryan Denham can be reached at