Recently, I made contact (technologically, not physically) with a few of our undergrads here in the TTU School of Theatre and Dance, offering a handful of questions for their perusal: senior Theatre Major Ethan Beam, sophomore BFA Acting Major Keandra Hunt, and junior transfer student Colin Thomas. Together we lamented what was lost, shared what we had left, and looked forward to a future that looks something like a combination of AMC's The Walking Dead and a George Orwell nightmare. Since this quarantine lifestyle is clearly our inevitable and foreseeable future, the fate of our arts is in the hands of youths such as these. Their insights are invaluable.
Evan Price (EP): Let's get to know you. What's an example of some work you've done in your time at Tech?
Ethan Beam (EB): I've been lucky to do all sorts of stuff while I've been at Tech. I've done everything from acting in plays like Elephant's Graveyard by George Brant, to helping on lighting crews for shows, to assistant directing a show for Shane Strawbridge called Shame on Me by Dillon Rouse, to writing my own ten minute play that was going to be produced for RROAPS/RRADS called The Infinitesimal Loop. A lot of creative people can get stuck in their own heads, especially in the theatre world. They like to think, "Well, I'm an actor so I will only work on acting." But I think to really get great at developing your own personal theatre identity, you just gotta try all of it. I've developed much deeper connections to theatre when I'm hanging lights or working as an assistant director than when I've just tried to stay in one lane. I would rather understand how a different facet of the machine works than just sitting in my own personal bubble.
Keandra Hunt (KH): I was in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson in the spring of 2019 and I was in the production of Canterville. I was also a part of the original table read of LyaNisha Gonzalez's play Black Girl, Interrupted at WildWind.
Colin Thomas (CT): The work I have been able to be a part of this semester was wonderful! I was the director of "Dis-A-Vow" in Plays On Tap, a series of new short plays that focused on spreading alcohol awareness. I also had the wonderful opportunity of being, Mr. Toppington and in the ensemble of a brand new musical called Creep. This production was a staged recorded reading of the musical which was going to be shared with different theater companies all around the country. If any theatre company wanted to produce this show, they would have to listen to us, students at Texas Tech, sing the original soundtrack!
EP: Ethan, you're graduating this semester, congratulations! What's that process currently like?
EB: It's been a really interesting and unique process to say the very least. If you're lucky enough to have the luxury, you live a lot of your teenage life thinking about walking across the stage at college graduation, finally making it to that last step to adulthood. Now it's all jumbled up: I've done all the requirements and I'm still getting the same confirmation, just none of the fanfare that you would like to have for putting in all the work one does at college. There are alternative options being put forth by the university, and I'm very appreciative for their thoughtful ideas during this time, but it's just hard compared to that big party everyone likes to have when they finally make it.
EP: Where are you all sheltering? Who are your quarantine partners?
KH: I'm currently back home in Killeen, Tx. I'm staying with my parents so it's the three of us, with various pets! A cat, two dogs and two horses.
CT: I am currently back at home in Frisco, Texas, which is about twenty minutes north of Dallas, Texas. My quarantine partners consist of my Dad, Mom, Sister and our cat Max. I love them all so much and they all have played a huge part as my partners during this crisis.
EB: I'm back home in Tyler, Texas. It's pretty weird how being seven hours away from school can completely change your mindset/work ethic. Even though I'm still in college at the time of writing this, it can feel like I'm completely removed.
EP: How have your classes transitioned to online?
CT: All of my classes have transitioned very smoothly into being online. My professors are phenomenal and have been communicating with us as much as possible along with our workload changing. Not being surrounded by my classmates and my professor is weird, because we feed off of each other's energy when performing and rehearsing.
KH: Some classes meet at the same times that we would if we were still on campus, just now it's through a camera. For others, my instructors either send out a PowerPoint or a pre-recorded lecture the day of class; however, we do not meet as a whole.
EB: Every class has adopted a lot more writing work. I've felt more swamped at home with all the time in the world than I ever did at school. All of my professors have converted to Zoom, all hail the mighty Zoom. Soon our Zoom overlords will have cornered the online chat platform industry and we will have nothing but Zoom to speak to our constituents. After that, Zoom will take over the marketing industry. Products brought to you by Zoom, political candidates brought to you by Zoom, coffee mugs, and all the merch you could hope for. After that, all that's left is the world. I'm kidding of course... unless...
EP: What's one surprise or success you've had due to the current situation?
EB: The amount of time you get to just sit and think about what you should add or subtract to make a play better has also been very helpful. It's like I get to just meditate on what makes or breaks my plays. Furthermore, thinking about what makes our job our job. You get the luxury of taking a step back from the hustle of theatre and think about the way you want it to be done and with whom you like working.
KH: I'm surprised by how well we as a community have changed such a major part of our lives in such a short period of time. It's amazing to see such a large group of people come together to create almost a new normal.
CT: My biggest surprise was at how smooth and fast we all transitioned into using these new online webcam platforms along with reorganizing and rearranging our course content calendars. The amount of support and efforts made from everyone at the university has been amazing.
EP: Is there any way you are either performing or appreciating the arts in an online format?
KH: TikTok is a fun platform, in that people are holding auditions for shows and then casting them to create short clips of popular musical numbers from that show. A lot of people will post covers of themselves playing a song from a show on the piano or a guitar, and then they ask people to duet their video of them singing in character! It's so cool!
EB: The more I've been thinking about it, the more I wonder if there are more unique ways to approach theatre in an online format. For one, I think there's a chance at something really great with the YouTube community, whether it's creating characters for a YouTube show or becoming an online personality, or even doing some more classically dubbed "technical" theatre work.
CT: I had the amazing opportunity of doing an online stream and video post of my production of Beans and Perspectives by Charles Hughes. I knew I wanted to share our show in some way to the school and with the world in any way I could. Theatre is not confined to just a stage; it can be shared anywhere. Sometimes we just have to be adaptable and be even more creative to get some of this work out there.
EP: What's next on the agenda for you?
CT: My current summer plans are on hold due to COVID-19, but I have applied to two different theater companies, Dallas Children's Theater and ZACH Theater in Austin, Texas. If these programs cancel for the entire summer, I will try and find a place to work around my home town, if it is safe to do so.
KH: For now, my plans are to take a few core classes online over the summer and if things get better hopefully be able to work.
EB: Well, I'm always writing. Poetry or plays, they come in all forms. I'm looking into getting into a Master's program somewhere for playwriting. A lot of work will be done to get me to that point over the next year. I've already been lucky to have so much help from people here and at previous education institutions, and I can't wait to make those people proud.