Last spring, the Gonzaga University theater department put on "Antigone" and "The Wolves," working around several restrictions that prevented a typical theater experience. All performers were masked and socially distanced, the size of the audience was limited, props could not be shared, costume fittings were done six feet apart with actors inserting safety pins themselves and everything was constantly sanitized.
“We definitely had to be flexible,” said senior theater student Claire Russell. “If someone had a notice of a close contact, we would have to either have an option for them to be on Zoom for rehearsal. [Or] we would cancel rehearsal and move what we were going to work on that night to a different rehearsal.”
The department has recently undergone changes in its leadership and is in the process of creating the theater council, a sort of governing body run by students. One of the council’s objectives is to create a more inclusive community within the theater program and increase student involvement in a show even if they aren’t taking a theater course. Monthly social gatherings will provide opportunities to meet like minded peers who have a keen interest in theatre.
A musical that's end is decided by the resounding applause of the theatergoers, Gonzaga University’s Department of Theatre and Dance’s ongoing production of "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" is based on an unfinished novel by Charles Dickens.
A whodunit, the actors and audience determine what happened to Edwin Drood and who killed him, ensuring that every night produces a different show. It’s the first musical at GU in several years.
“Drood deals with issues of racism,” said Leslie Stamoolis, who works as an associate professor, theater director and costume designer. “We were very deliberate [about] race and gender inclusivity in our casting [and] to explore what it means to have some newcomers come to town from a different place and immediately be identified as outsiders and in fact, accused of having something to do with Edwards disappearance."
The Department of Theatre and Dance is working in conjunction with the Music Department for this musical. Performed in the Myrtle Woldson Performing Arts Center at full capacity with actors that don’t don masks, this new season is dramatic shift from this past year.
“Theater's in sort of a rebuilding period right now, and I think that gives us an opportunity to change a lot of things and grow in a positive direction,” said senior Anna Kay. “We have a different power structure with our faculty now, which gives students more of an opportunity to say this is what we want or need from our department. We're trying to expand not only in performance, but also in service aspects. How can we bring more of the Jesuit mission into what we do?”
Two theater student-led initiatives are familiar to many around campus. GUTS (Gonzaga University Theatre Sports) and Boone Street Hooligans provide comedic and entertaining experiences. An improv comedy group and a comedy sketch show, these two programs provide students the opportunity to take leadership compared to the full scale productions that are more faculty run.
“What's really special about Gonzaga theater is that you can be a major or a minor or not, and participate in anything that we do,” Stamoolis said. “Our program can train you for a professional theater career, we can prepare you to go straight into the industry or go to grad school. But we can also be an extra curricular offering for students here on campus."
Next semester, the department will put on two shows. One is Tony Kushner’s "A Bright Room Called Day," which takes place in the home of a group of activists on the dawn of World War II. The other will be a stage reading of Lisa Loomer’s "The Waiting Room," a dark comedy where three women from different centuries meet in a doctor’s waiting room. Auditions will be held in November.
“Theater and the arts in general are a really important part of a liberal arts education,” Stamoolis said. “There's no requirement of major or minor to take any of our classes and most of them count for a fine arts core course too. We have something for everybody at Gonzaga theater.”