Katie Gucik can’t remember a time she wasn’t passionate about theater. A third-year MFA candidate in acting at the University of Iowa Department of Theatre Arts, she recalls falling in love with the art form while giving an embodiment presentation of Hellen Keller around age seven.
Originally hailing from Ohio, Gucik earned her Bachelor's in Theatre and Music at Ohio University. Her administrative career led her from Colorado to California, spending five years as a theater company manager. Gucik also trained at PCPA Conservatory Theatre in Santa Maria, CA, and was cast in a variety of musicals. She continued to primarily work along the West Coast before finding her way to Iowa.
“I knew I wanted to go to grad school to focus on the craft of acting because I felt like I’d never done that,” she explains, citing her prior emphasis on voice, production, and musicals.
Within her first year in the program, and in one of her favorite experiences at Iowa, Gucik’s acting chops were quickly being honed. As part of the Iowa Directors Festival, Gucik was cast in Small Hours, a one-woman play with little speaking.
“As somebody who has a background in music, and normally uses lyrics and music to tell the story, it was a huge challenge to be in that show with very little dialogue, to be alive on stage for that long without language and with some very heavy subject matter,” she recalls of the collaborative effort.
The program’s focus on new works, however, initially drew the young performer to Iowa. On a weekly basis, Gucik gets to take part in new readings and indulge her passion for collaboration with playwrights.
“It’s amazing,” she says of the opportunities. “Cold reading new scripts is a really valuable skill, but then also, getting to work with the playwright, developing a character–a part that nobody else has ever played before–is really exciting.”
This abundance is fortified by the New Play Festival, which offers students four fully-produced new works every spring.
“That is the epitome of collaboration and connection amongst departments, and it’s my favorite week of the year,” she exclaims.
Last spring, Gucik received funding from the university to travel to Poland. There she studied movement and took a physical theater workshop led by Matej Matejka at Brzezinka, the forest base of the Grotowski Institute, named after the legendary Polish theater director Jerzy Grotowski. The experience helped Gucik refine her choices on what kind of work she’ll prioritize after leaving Iowa.
“The time was lifechanging, which sounds cliché and maybe dramatic,” Gucik admits. “But it was amazing to be in a space where this particular theater creator had created a bunch of his pieces, and then be training in the actual space where he had once trained.”
Not long after returning to campus, and in honor of the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's First Folio, Gucik was sporting black war paint and slinging swords with ruthless aggression as Macduff in the Shakespeare tragedy, Macbeth.
“A lot of bad things happen in this show,” she explains with an understated grin. “And I get to have a really emotional journey that happens in front of the audience most of time and have some revenge on Macbeth in the end.”
Gucik says the play offered a unique opportunity to both learn from teachers in the classroom and work with them on stage in rehearsal. This includes director, voice teacher, and associate professor, Mary Mayo, as well as fight choreographer, associate professor, and head of acting, Paul Kalina. Collaboration with fellow graduate students across different departments–including stage manager Savanha Moore and assistant director Josh Turner–also enriched her experience in Macbeth.
Amidst her broad wealth of experiences in Iowa’s Department of Theatre Arts, Gucik also emphasizes the importance of theater on the greater society.
“I think it is the medium that most builds empathy amongst people,” she asserts. “And being able to come to a theater and either see yourself represented on stage, or see something that you never would have thought about being represented on stage, can have huge impact on your life.”