Ursula Belden Named Fellow
The designation of Fellow of the Institute is the most prestigious honor a member can receive in USITT. Fellows are elected by other Fellows for their exceptional contributions to the Institute and to the entertainment industry. Every effort is made to recognize members at an opportune moment, yet sometimes we miss our cue, as is the case with our posthumous induction of our late colleague, Ursula Belden.
Ursula was an inventive scenic designer, a dynamic teacher, an indispensable USITT compatriot, and a vital colleague. She designed over 150 productions, on and off-Broadway, in regional theatres across the country and internationally. Ursula's design work was regularly selected for inclusion in the USITT PQ USA exhibits in Prague between 1999 and 2007.
A graduate of Yale School of Drama, and member of USA 829, Ursula was the head of production design and technology at Ohio University, where she was designated a Distinguished Professor of Scene Design. She taught overseas at London, Berlin, Bali, Katmandu, Prague, and Hong Kong. Her teaching excellence was twice recognized with Tobin Theatre Arts Fund Awards for her students' designs in the PQ 2003 and 2007 Student Exhibits.
At the tribute session for Ursula at the 2009 Annual Conference & Stage Expo, former students and faculty colleagues gathered to testify to the impact of her influence. She was remembered for her tireless dedication to leading students and fellow faculty to achieve their highest potential in creating evocative and meaningful visual images for the theatre. While Ursula was quick and frank in her assessments of design, she was motivated by her intense conviction to elevate the art form. Faculty colleague Holly Cole described Ursula as "passionate, difficult, demanding, and righteous, and we all were enriched because we knew her."
Ursula's participation in USITT activities demonstrated her tireless dedication to the organization. She co-designed the National Exhibit for PQ 2003, and designed the World Stage Design Exhibit in Toronto in 2005 and the Student Exhibit for PQ 2007. Her countless hours of volunteerism and determination deeply enriched all three of these events and provided a strong public face for USITT exhibitions. She was already engaged with the exhibit for PQ 2011, though from her bed, when she succumbed to cancer in January 2009. The USITT PQ USA '11 National Exhibit will be dedicated to her memory.
Ursula's spirit of internationalism represented us well throughout the globe, and she was an outstanding member of the theatre design community worldwide. Though her active contributions have ceased, her aesthetic vigor carries on in the minds and designs of her students and any of us who came in contact with her. A highlight of my international activities was receiving her endorsement for my efforts, knowing her gold standard of expectations. In that moment, I understood how, through her approval, she inspired and energized her students to accomplish beyond their dreams to achieve hers.
This recognition is for Ursula, and for her family: daughter, Willow, and brother, Walter Mugden. It is also for her colleagues, who personally know of her tremendous gifts as a practitioner and advocate for our field, and for her students, who experienced her passionate leadership in shaping their design aesthetics and careers. Many of you all already knew that Ursula was a force of nature, and now you know that we knew it as well. Though Ursula is no longer with us, it is with great appreciation and respect that I call Willow and Walter to the stage to receive her pin and plaque.
Ursula Belden was one of three new Fellows inducted in a ceremony at the 2010 Annual Conference in Kansas City, Missouri. This honorary designation is given to those selected by vote of the current Fellows and is bestowed for life upon those members who have made a truly outstanding contribution to the theatre and the work of the Institute.
Click their names to read the introductory remarks about the other new Fellows, Reid Neslage and Gordon Pearlman.