2020 Augie Grad Being Groomed to Take Over as Head of Genesius Guild
Isabel Dawson, a 2020 Augustana College graduate, wears many hats – which each reflect her many skills in theater and business.
The bright, enthusiastic 23-year-old, who did a lot of theater in high school in Normal, Ill., is the new assistant executive director for Genesius Guild and is helping assemble this summer’s abridged schedule of three productions outside in Rock Island’s Lincoln Park.
Doug Tschopp has been executive director for about 15 years, involved in Genesius for 25 years, and worked closely with Dawson at Augie, where she majored in theater and business management.
“I just knew her skillset was super strong, her interest in local theater,” he said recently of Dawson’s fit for Genesius Guild. “With Covid and everything – at some point, it would be time for me to step back anyway. I didn’t know how active I was able to be.”
Tschopp has worked at Augie about 29 years, starting as the college’s first director of marketing. He opened the EDGE Center in Olin Hall over 10 years ago and is its director, which serves business students and stresses entrepreneurial thinking.
“I used to micromanage employees; you can’t do that,” Tschopp said. “You find people that are super-capable, you let them do it and you get out of their way. All groups in the EDGE Center work that way.”
“It’s a center designed for people like Isabel – for overachievers,” he said, noting she was part of starting the local chapter of the Enactus international organization.
“Each chapter is challenged to come up with project to help people economically,” Tschopp said. “It’s using entrepreneurial skills to advance something.”
“The EDGE Center is amazing,” Dawson said this week. “It’s business students getting to work directly with real clients, while still having support from students.”
“That opportunity to grow and bounce ideas quickly off people can make you so much more productive,” she said.
EDGE (which stands for Entrepreneurial Development through Guided Experiences) opened in 2010 – in part for students to gain valuable experience and build their portfolio to set themselves apart in
their professional careers. For organizations and businesses, EDGE benefits them by working with students to develop quality, low-cost communication, marketing and management assets – including creative services, ads and web design.
For Tschopp’s public relations class, Dawson assembled a 99-page plan for Q-C theaters to cooperate, called the QC Performing Arts Collective. The idea for a cooperative organization was like Quad City Presenters, which Don Wooten originally formed 50 years ago, but she didn’t know about.
“She developed the full business plan — she’s all about her research and knowledge,” Tschopp said.
“Let’s share marketing, let’s share props more easily, bring in speakers that we can all utilize,” Dawson said this week. “Versus every theater having your own administration, so they can better support each other. We should all be supporting each other, trying to make art come through, to reach more of the community.”
“The Quad-Cities has an abundance of art and I wish more people utilized it and realized what’s in this area – and that it’s so special and unique to the Quad-Cities,” she said.
Her collective plan aimed to start a new non-profit organization to support and grow local, creative arts in the Q-C area. “It will encourage collaboration and communication among arts groups,” Dawson wrote in her plan. “Local art organizations can become members. QC Performing Arts Collective will focus on the theatre community but expand to other branches of performing arts, such as music, dance, and slam poetry, and other arts as it grows.”
Tschopp was also immensely impressed a year ago when Dawson alone won the $4,500 first prize in the Augustana Business Plan Competition, for inventing a new bra for women with unevenly shaped or sized breasts.
She says many women have asymmetrical breasts (between 40-50 percent have a cup size difference, according to her research), yet no current bra treats each breast separately. Dawson’s Evenly bra fills the gap, literally.
She wrote her business plan during Augie’s first J Term in January 2020, where students could focus on one class or project.
“I was cut down to just one class. I had no shows; my roommate left for Norway. I said I was going to sit down and it took me about two weeks, because I’d sit down three or four hours a night,” Dawson said.
Her business plan – which included copious research of the industry and other bra companies, as well as survey results from 422 women — was “the hands-down winner” of the business competition, Tschopp said.
Dawson has uneven breasts herself, and knows other women who do.
“It’s such a common thing I don’t think many people know about, or know it’s completely normal and healthy,” she said. “I totally saw a need
for this product and it’s so annoying when you’re trying to shop and it’s never gonna fit both – it’s only going to fit one side.”
Dawson found the 40-percent figure from two major bra companies. The SidebySide Bra will be a new concept bra that is separated into two parts by both a front and a back clasp. This allows each breast to be custom fit, and unique molds will allow the padding to be customized to both an inner size and an outer size. “Breasts are, after all, two organs and they grow separately,” her plan says.
In addition to women with asymmetric breasts, target audiences include women battling breast cancer. Partial and full mastectomies provide assurance that the cancer cannot return, but can also be a cause of asymmetry. Most survivors will have an expensive, custom breast form made to match their existing breast. But the SidebySide bra will provide evenly appearing breasts with only a soft comfortable padded bra.
“Evenly understands breast cancer as a concern for all of our customers. That’s why 10% of all annual
revenue is donated to breast cancer research,” Dawson’s plan says.
“The intimate apparel market is highly fragmented, and the largest known brands such as Victoria’s Secret are dropping off,” she wrote. “In this competitive market, there is opportunity for new emerging brands with a niche client to become well-known. Primary research was conducted which showcases the divided industry.”
Dawson wrote that the total brassiere market in the U.S. was valued at approximately $3.57 billion in 2018 and was forecast to increase to $5.75 billion by 2025.
Her 35-page business plan includes results from a survey she did, with 422 respondents, after seeking answers from the Augustana community (students, faculty, staff, and administrators), as well as shared via multiple Facebook pages and groups.
She found 49.3 percent of the respondents said they had asymmetrical breasts, and 40 percent said they would pay up to $50 for a well-fitting bra.
“The whole idea is to give women options for what they need,” Dawson said of the new bras, for which she has a patent pending. The customized product can serve a woman, for example, with one A cup and one B, and will present as both B. “The padding will make up that difference,” she said.
To apply for a patent, she got a recommendation for a patent attorney in Chicago who’s an Augie alum. “He has been amazing to work with,” she said, noting she got investors to help pay his fees.
Getting hooked on theater
Dawson went to high school in Normal, Ill., where she took part in 11 theater productions (on and off stage). When she was 16, her high school theater got to travel to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, over two weeks, and performed John Patrick Shanley plays. “It was so awesome,” she said.
Dawson was attracted to Augustana since she’s a theater person and they opened the new $4.2-million Brunner Theatre Center in fall 2016.
She did a lot of theater both at Augie – including stage managing the summer 2018 season for Mississippi Bend Players (MBP) – and stage managing three plays at QC Theatre Workshop. She was on stage for “Vagina Monologues” at Augie her last two years.
“What I really love about stage management is, I get to see all the parts and how *they all work together,” Dawson said. “I get to help out with costumes – if there’s a rip, I’m in the back sewing the tear, whatever I need to do. Or with props, I had done in high school, too, and comforting actors – helping them get through what they need to get through. And it’s a lot of crisis management, which I find really interesting.”
“With theater in general, I just love the way it helps people escape into someone else’s shoes, I just think is really special,” she said. “It’s one of the things I’ve really been missing during the pandemic, is getting everyone in a room together. It’s not the same if you’re watching something on YouTube or a movie version.”
She was asked over the winter to be Tschopp’s assistant for Genesius Guild, despite the fact she’d never been part of a single show, nor seen one.
MBP was so busy, Dawson never got a weekend off that summer, she said, and in 2019, she worked at a summer stock theater in Wisconsin, St. Croix Festival Theatre, northeast of the Twin Cities. There, she stage managed three shows and taught children’s theater.
Genesius is similar to an outdoor theater in the park Dawson grew up attending in Bloomington-Normal, the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, where she also worked during in high school.
“What’s nice about Genesius Guild, I grew up going to Shakespeare in the park; it just wasn’t in the Quad-Cities,” she said. “It’s such a beautiful theater company.”
“I’m really excited to take a role where I can use those sides – the business side to keep everything rolling, but also understand and appreciate the artistic, creative side, and keep getting to use that, too,” Dawson said of Genesius – which provides free productions (focusing on Shakespeare and ancient Greeks) each summer at Lincoln Park Classic Theatre, 1120 40th St., Rock Island.
“We’ll see how this goes, maybe another year or so,” Tschopp said of how much longer he’ll stay as executive director (a job for which he doesn’t take a salary). “She’s a take-charge person. She’s interviewing or people for positions, stage manager, working on a new costume person.”
“He’s looking to slowly fade out a little bit and pass the reins over, so this year, I’m kind of the one on the ground, being his eyes and ears and also kind of making some of those decisions,” Dawson said. “It’s been exciting — I’ve been going to board meetings; I’m part of the artistic committee now.”
She was actually able to secure one of the scripts for no royalties – the abridged adaptation of “Measure for Measure,” by Kevin Rich, who she knew from Illinois Shakespeare Festival, which will be the first play of the season in June.
“Kevin Rich has some really great adaptations. He’s a Shakespeare expert, a Shakespeare scholar in every way,” she said. “He actually left Bloomington-Normal to go to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which is such a renowned, great theater. So it’s super incredible we can form this partnership, bring his work to life and get to use it.”
The 2021 Genesius season (each performance starting at 7 p.m., with limited seating and shows 90 minutes or less) consists of:
- June 19, 20, 26 and 27:William Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure,” adapted and abridged by Kevin Rich.
- July 3, 4, 10 and 11:“Shakespeare’s Life in His Words,” by Don Wooten.
- July 17, 18, 24 and 25:Euripides’ “Hippolytus.”
The Guild will be doing much smaller sets, if any at all, Dawson said. She and Tschopp aren’t sure when the transition to a new executive director will happen.
“I’m 23, so even the opportunity to be executive directing a theater company at 24 is incredible,” she said. “We’re going to see how this season goes. It’s wonderful I know Doug is still there; he’s a phone call away all the time. He’s such a good mentor and we’ll still have that relationship.”
People understand that a smaller season this summer is reasonable, she said.
“Between the break-in and Covid, we’re gonna see how we do for this first season,” Dawson said. “In the future, I think there’s a ton of potential for growth. We’ve had our radio shows, which have been awesome, and we’re hoping to continue that on as we bring back our normal season.”
In fall 2019, Genesius discovered the theft of thousands of dollars of tools and equipment from its storage shed at the Lincoln Park theater. Losses included 12-foot and 10-foot ladders, a cabinet full of tools, a basket full of the theater company’s wiring, lamps, a two-wheel hand truck, and probably 100 other tools and items.
Since last December, Genesius has posted audio productions and podcasts – including an hour-long version of “Hamlet” at https://anchor.fm/genesius-guild/.
Dawson said that fundraising for the Guild is not going to be a focus for her now, since Tschopp and Gary Rowe have led that.
Hats for housing and philanthropy
Since July 2020, her full-time job has been administrative coordinator for Ruhl&Ruhl Realtors – which has 300-plus sales associates, 61 employees and 11 offices serving eastern Iowa, northwest Illinois and southwest Wisconsin. Dawson works as assistant to Ruhl&Ruhl president Chris Beason.
Jenny Parvin, director of marketing and public relations, interviewed her for a marketing position, and Beason chose her as his right hand. Dawson is responsible for coordinating weekly training and meetings, and supplying all relevant materials.
“She checked all the boxes, what I was looking for in an assistant,” he said recently. “She seemed to fit the bill perfectly. She certainly took the opportunity and has done a great job with it.”
“Her responsibilities are of significant importance to me, and certainly growing throughout the company,” Beason said. “She’s a real go-getter, definitely a take charge kind of person. When we throw her a task, she’ll see it through.”
One major event she organized and managed was a training program this past February at the Waterfront Convention Center in Bettendorf, with over 100 people attending.
“I think her background in producing plays and all that came to the forefront, as she really managed that event perfectly,” Beason said. “It was hard to manage, especially during Covid. It was like she was directing a play – it was a perfect fit for her. We heard great testimonials from our trainer, who was in from out of town.”
“She’s just wonderful,” Parvin said. “She sees something from the beginning to the end of a process. She always sees how she can improve something and make it better. I adore her. She has made my life a more beautiful place for sure.”
“She’s not afraid to pick up the phone and call anybody,” Beason said. “We’ve expanded her role in some of our recruiting efforts, taking on the first point of contact for people exploring a career in real estate. She’s great with the follow-up, taking that on.”
“She’s having conversations that typically some of our managers would do and does it without any problem,” he said. “She’s wise beyond her years.”
Parvin has worked with Tschopp at Augustana in the past for Augie grads to interview and hire for the company. “I’ve just been really impressed with the Augie grads in general,” she said.
“He does a really great job in not only training them for marketing careers, but also growing them and networking into good places, and finding good fits for employers,” she said of Tschopp.
“The flexibility and the family culture here are just incredible,” Dawson said of the real estate firm. “This has been the best of both worlds because I still with work with marketing quite closely, but I am in the executive hallway, supporting all these high functions.”
“That’s sort of what I used to do for theater – kind of seeing everyone’s schedules and helping coordinate things. I really enjoy getting to watch the leadership here – Chris and Caroline are amazing,” she said of Beason and CEO Caroline Ruhl. “I get to serve them and also support however I can.”
Dawson also volunteers as a mentor for the Teens for Tomorrow philanthropy program at Quad Cities Community Foundation, which she’s done since 2017.
When she was a sophomore in high school, Bloomington-Normal was just starting a youth philanthropy program, and she was one of the first members – where high schoolers make grant decisions. Youth Engaged in Philanthropy (YEP) started an endowment, raised to $10,000 when she graduated high school.
“I was part of writing the first grant application and we started an endowment from ground zero,” Dawson recalled. “We raised that to amazing heights.”
Since 2013, YEP has explored the meaning of philanthropy, needs in the community, and the impact of giving back. It has received and reviewed a total of 108 grant proposals and awarded a total of $50,000 to 33 applicants impacting 11,600 youth, according to www.ciyep.org/what-is-yep.
Both YEP and Teens for Tomorrow (T4T) have students make decisions on how to give away $10,000 a year, said Dawson, who’s spoken at a national conference in Anaheim, Calif., about youth philanthropy. She reached out to the Q-C Community Foundation after graduating high school, and became a mentor for teens her sophomore year at Augie and has been every year since.
“Isabel’s amazing. She is a real Renaissance woman,” said Kelly Thompson, vice president of grantmaking and community initiatives for Quad Cities Community Foundation.
“When I came to the Quad-Cities, I saw you guys already had a youth philanthropy program, I’d love to help out,” Dawson said. “I reached out to Kelly; she’s an Augustana alum and she’s amazing.”
“The teens make all the decisions. We’re just there to teach them, advise, help them, and keep them going in the right direction,” she said. Compared to YEP, they had longer meetings each month, while T4T has more structure, brings in more guest speakers, and does site visits for grant applicants, Dawson said.
In Teens for Tomorrow, local high school students become philanthropists by learning about community needs, developing a grant opportunity, evaluating applications, making site visits, and awarding grants.
To get updates on Dawson’s bra invention, check out www.sidebysidebra.com.