The theatre and dance department presents Gonzaga's Mission Statement in a unique way that promotes active engagement with complicated and important ideas through experimental theater initiatives, opportunities for student-driven pieces and collaboration among departments.
The ZagLab initiative is one that uses interdisciplinary collaboration to encourage community members and students to pursue questions and confront complicated ideas. In the fall of 2017, ZagLab presented “Waiting for Godot,” a postmodern show by Samuel Beckett that challenges the audience’s perception of God, action and inaction. The constant noise from the trains that passed by during performances and intentionally disintegrating set pieces coupled with a beautiful ceramic art installation created a new idea of humanity’s role and responsibility in climate change for audience members to interact with.
The theatre and dance department provides theater majors with the opportunity to produce student directed, acted and produced work.
Last spring, theater and education double major Nathan Patrick Nelson directed "Hamletmachine," an intimate, ambulatory piece that portrayed comparisons between Hamlet, postwar Berlin and today's United States of America. In past years, student directors have produced works like “The Big Meal,” with themes of love, death and family, as well as “Venus in Fur” and “Glengarry Glen Ross” to explore ideas of gender roles and sexuality.
The dance half of the department produces work like the Student Choreography Concert, which showcases dances performed and choreographed by students. The most compelling of these go on to perform at the Spring Dance Concert. These opportunities give student directors and choreographers the ability to choose the ideas and themes that are important to them and the stage to engage audience members.
Collaboration is part of the department’s engagement with both the audience and university Mission Statement. Shows often have “Talkbacks” immediately following the performances, hosted by GU professors or representatives of different departments. A talkback is when the cast, designers and directors come back on stage for an informal discussion with the audience about what they just saw. Following the production of student-directed work “Constellations,” professor Eric Kincanon of the physics department gave a talk on the physics and mathematical theories behind the show, which takes place in many universes. For shows that depict deeper, underlying emotional struggles, like the production of “Next to Normal” the senior project of theater majors Jacqueline Mallene and Annika Perez-Krikorian, there is often outreach with organizations like the Center for Cura Personalis, which hosted the talkback for that show.
Last year, the department produced “Coming Home: A Soldiers’ Project." It was a work of documentary theater written and directed by faculty members about the experiences of returning soldiers on GU's campus. Department head Dr. Kathleen Jeffs states that “[the show] allowed us to grow toward each other as human beings in a world that seems ever more divided.”
That ability to influence students and community members in such a powerful, empathetic way is why theater is a perfect vessel for the mission statement.
The fall season for the department was announced last April and will include the Second Stage shows “Gruesome Playground Injuries” and “The Last Five Years,” directed by Madeline Keckler, Dan Martin and Carson Stowell, as well as a currently unconfirmed show, guest directed by Jesus Quintero, who has previously taught a masterclass on campus. Jeffs said the first factor taken into consideration when choosing new shows is the department’s mission statement, which states the department is “committed to training and developing artists who confront the important issues in our lives through their engagement with the art forms of live theatre and dance.”
Erin Sellers is a staff writer. Follow her on Twitter: @ErinSellers18.