Several Northwestern State University theatre and dance students are still hoping they will be able to perform this summer with professional theatre companies around the country.
A number of theatrical companies have postponed their summer seasons due to the COVID-19 virus, but still hope they will be able to open.
“Summer employment is a wonderful opportunity for students to work professionally in the field,” said Brett Alan Garfinkel, chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance at Northwestern State. “Working during the summer months gives students a unique experience and perspective to work with professionals that solidify the teachings of the faculty they learn from. It is this experience that helps them grow into the artists and professionals they seek to become.”
Garfinkel said summer stock shows work at a fast pace as cast members learn a show in a few weeks.
“While one show is being performed in the evening, they are often learning and rehearsing another show in the afternoon,” he said. “This schedule allows for all to move quickly through the rehearsal and creation process.”
According to Garfinkel, some theater companies allow for performers to gain equity points towards SAG/AFTRA, the actors union.
Among those hoping to perform this summer are Joey Carrol of Baton Rouge, Kyle Munson of Prairieville and Luther Brooks IV of Lafayette at Bigfork Summer Playhouse in Bigfork, Montana. Brooks has the role of Eddie in “Sister Act.”
Serena Bonnette of Covington is contracted as a costume designer and Alphonse Engram of De Ridder is scheduled to be a dancer, Ashlyn Pettiss of Prairieville is scheduled to be a costume character and character performer, Kristi Contreary hopes to be a character performer and host and Christian Osborne of Plaquemine was hired to be a character performer at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio.
Cassidy Giddens of Shreveport is performing at Blue Gate Restaurant and Theatre in Shipsewana, Indiana, and Mary Fletcher of Shreveport is performing in a short film “Green’s Alley” being shot in Shreveport.
“I hope I will be able to work as soon as possible, but I understand we are going through something that is unprecedented and we have to be concerned about everyone’s safety first,” said Engram. I’ve really just been trying my best to stay active at home, active word trying, although I feel as though I’ve been falling short more than I’d like to admit.”
Engram, a senior, would be working professionally for the first time.
“To me it’s important to have a job where I’m actually dancing and performing because it is a sure-fire way for me to keep dancing and remaining active during the summer break,” he said. “It would be really good for my resumé to have work experience under my belt.”
Munson was able to go to Montana and start rehearsals with Bigfork Summer Playhouse. The company is in quarantine but is doing rehearsals without a full cast
“The waiting to hear if I had a job or not was hard, but I accepted the fact that it may not happen, so I was at peace with whatever happened in the end. I’m so thankful to be here right now,” said Munson. The bonding time and extra technique classes have been incredibly beneficial.”
Munson believes it is important for theaters around the world to determine how to begin performing again.
“If we don’t figure things out soon, theatre and performance are going to take a huge hit financially,” said Munson. “It’s important for us to get this chance because even though we may just be one theatre in Montana, who knows? We may set the prototype for how theatre can function in a pandemic, which didn’t seem like a problem before this year. Now that we see the problem, solutions can come from it. I am beyond blessed to get this opportunity, and even if something happens and the contract is cancelled, the opportunity we had here has been incredible.”
Several students had professional opportunities cancelled including Maci Walgamotte of Slidell, who was offered a patron services staff position at Interlochen Center for the Arts in Interlochen, Michigan, Laurenzo Fields of White Oak, Texas, who was offered a contract as a props intern for Flatrock Playhouse in Flat Rock, North Carolina, and Erin Fallis of Pineville was hoped to be a featured dancer for the “Stephen Foster Story” and “Mamma Mia” shows with The Stephen Foster Story company in Bardstown, Kentucky.
Others unable to do summer professional work were Robert McCandlish of Monroe who was to be a vocalist for “TEXAS! The Outdoor Musical” in Palo Duro Canyon, Texas, Chase Crane of Livingston who received a contract to play Lorne Stone in “Under The Colorado Moon” and Pierre/Bill in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” for Thin Air Theatre Company in Cripple Creek, Colorado, and Trevor Brown of New Orleans who had planned to perform the roles of Jimmy Ray Dobbs in “Brightstar,” Antony in “Sweeney Todd,” a member of the ensemble in “The Wizard of Oz” and Jesus in “Godspell” at Thingamajig Theatre Company in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Jesse McFarland of Tyler, Texas was scheduled to be a member of “The Lost Colony” in Manteo, North Carolina.
Two other students who hoped to perform at Cedar Point, performance actor Trevor VanEaton of Shreveport and dresser/stitcher Sydney Ryder of Pineville will not be able to do so. The cancellation of the Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre in Loga, Utah, kept JeBreanne Morgan of Plaquemine from working as a sound technician.
Myjoycia Cezar from Shreveport lost a job as a props master and assistant stage manager at Highlands Playhouse in Highlands, North Carolina, but was offered a job as a dramaturgical assistant with a devising company called The Anthropologists in New York that allows her to work remotely.
According to Garfinkel, most theatre and dance students get professional jobs over the summer through consolidated auditions at the Southeastern Theatre Conference, the Municipal Theatre Association and other conferences. Garfinkel said because of the reputation NSU students have built up over the years, some companies such as Cedar Point Amusement Park and Thingamajig Theater Productions host auditions at NSU annually, allowing students to get booked for these contracts before these companies go on audition tours.
“The department is thrilled to see our students working professionally before graduating,” said Garfinkel. “Sometimes these summer contracts are just what Broadway casting agents are looking to see on resumes. They want to know ‘Can the performer handle the rigorous schedule?’ Nothing brings our faculty more joy then to see our students and graduates achieve success in booking jobs all over the country in theatre and dance.”
Information on NSU’s Theatre and Dance program is at https://capa.nsula.edu/theatre/.