Carrie Taylor came to Iowa State in the fall of 2006 excited to pursue a career in materials engineering. After all, some of her greatest attributes are superior analytical thinking, creative problem solving, and old-fashioned ingenuity – perfect skills for a budding engineer.
But once she was on campus, Taylor (’10 performing arts with an emphasis in theatrical design and technology) yearned for the lights, drama, and excitement of the theatre stage. While she had participated in numerous plays and musicals throughout middle and high school, she never seriously considered a theatre career.
“At one point, one of my engineering professors said, ‘You know, you can do what you want to do. Of course, you can be successful as an engineer, but you should do the thing that you want to do,’” Taylor recalled.
That conversation changed the trajectory of Taylor’s college experience and career path. In a heartbeat, she switched to a performing arts major. While theatre and engineering may seem like polar opposites, Taylor said managing a stage production requires just as much ingenuity.
“Even though you’re working on something very different in theatre, that curiosity and hunger to really problem solve and figure out minute details is a huge asset for theatre as well,” Taylor said.
A firm foundation
Taylor commends Iowa State’s Department of Music and Theatre for requiring performing arts majors to participate in all aspects of theatre. Though she took classes like scene and lighting design that leaned on her technical emphasis, she also enrolled in a choreography class and participated in voice lessons.
“Carrie was a phenomenal student leader and quickly rose to be the crème de le crème of our majors in so many different ways."
“When I was stage managing a decade later, I understood what those dancers and singers were going through,” she said. “Having that awareness teaches you empathy and that’s critical if you’re in any sort of support role.”
In addition to the curriculum, Taylor believes the music and theatre department faculty are second to none, especially department chair Brad Dell.
“Brad has such faith and care in every student, and that comes out by him really showing them what they are capable of,” she said. “I felt very set up for success with his combination of encouragement and belief.”
Dell remembers Taylor’s strong work ethic and positive attitude. Whether she was problem-solving a lighting issue, managing a scene, or acting on stage, Dell knew Taylor would someday accomplish great things.
“Carrie was a phenomenal student leader and quickly rose to be the crème de le crème of our majors in so many different ways,” Dell said. “She had a gentleness about her and an ability to both inspire and rally her peers, and also maintain the respect of her professors. She’s one of those students you just knew would go out in the world and do cool stuff.”
Hungry for the arts
Following graduation from Iowa State in 2010, Taylor spent about eight years as a freelance stage manager for numerous nonprofit theaters. She loved the challenges that accompanied each production, but eventually she wanted to plant some roots.
“I hit a point where I wanted a more stable career, where I wasn’t constantly looking for the next gig,” Taylor said.
“I loved the creativity that went into making lights, but I was anxious to get back to making big, beautiful things.”
When an opportunity arose to become a project manager at Electronic Theatre Controls, a company that designs theatre lighting, she jumped at it. The position allowed Taylor to again flex her engineering muscle.
“I did that for about two years but I got hungry for more arts,” she said. “I loved the creativity that went into making lights, but I was anxious to get back to making big, beautiful things.”
A unique company and name
A desire to live somewhere picturesque inspired both Taylor and her husband to eventually seek new career opportunities in the southwest United States. Her job search led to a unique company with an unusual name to match – Meow Wolf.
Based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Meow Wolf creates larger-than-life art installations and immersive experiences for all ages. Currently, the company hosts three major exhibitions in Santa Fe, Las Vegas, and Denver, which transport visitors into epic, unexpected art-filled landscapes that excite the senses.
“It’s my job to say, ‘OK, what does this big thing actually look like?’ It’s a combination of resourcing but also empowering dreams while keeping it within what’s doable.”
Taylor was smitten by Meow Wolf’s commitment to extravagant art and out-of-the-box thinking. Initially, she joined the company as a show coordinator, managing the mega art installations in Las Vegas and Denver. Today, she is a project manager with the product and engineering team, which handles the company’s business data infrastructure, data reporting, ticketing systems, and websites. Again, Taylor finds herself in familiar, technical territory.
As a project manager, Taylor figures out how to transform the magical, marvelous ideas developed at Meow Wolf into reality. It’s her job to rein in the abundant artistic energy of her creative co-workers without stifling their imaginations.
“It’s my job to say, ‘OK, what does this big thing actually look like?’ It’s a combination of resourcing but also empowering dreams while keeping it within what’s doable,” Taylor said.
Try new things
From building stage sets to websites, Taylor’s career is evidence that a performing arts degree offers multiple paths. As a student at Iowa State, she got involved with all facets of theatre, something she highly encourages current students to emulate.
“Don’t be scared to dabble. A lot of friends I made in my career funneled into a hyper-specialized BFA (bachelor of fine arts), and I genuinely think Iowa State prepared me so much better in letting me try different things, letting me find out what I love, letting me find out what I’m good at, and what I’m not good at. It’s really important to try all of those different things.”