As Summer Arts reaches the midway mark, make it a point to attend a student showcase (or six)
UPDATE: After this post was published, the Immersive Theatre and Social Justice Student Showcase was canceled for Covid-19-related reasons.
A Summer Arts spokesperson told me:
All hail the student showcase.
Yes, CSU Summer Arts offers a remarkable opportunity to experience great professional teaching artists in special concerts, lectures and events. But I often say that the best-kept secret of the festival is the series of showcase performances offered to the public as their culminating events.
And they’re free!
The showcases are held the final two days of each of the festival’s two-week sessions. Since we’ve almost come to the midway point of Summer Arts, that time is upon us.
Here’s the schedule:
• 4 p.m.: Contemporary Dance with Ballet BC Student Showcase – John Wright Theatre, Speech Arts Building.
• 7:30 p.m.: The Art of Classical Saxophone Student Showcase – Concert Hall, Music Building.
• 9 p.m.: Video Projection Mapping in 3D Space Student Showcase – Music 127, Music Building.
• 11 a.m.: Art>Anthropocene<Action and Creature Workshop for Animation Student Showcases: Conley Art Gallery, Conley Art Building.
• 2 p.m.: Writing for Television: The Writer’s Room Student Showcase – John Wright Theatre, Speech Arts Building.
• 4:15 p.m.: Immersive Theatre and Social Justice Student Showcase – John Wright Theatre, Speech Arts Building.
After two weeks spent in an intense, feverishly creative environment made up of people who are just as passionate as you about your chosen field of art, it’s no wonder the results can be impressive. This is raw energy we’re talking about. As an audience member, it’s a treat to tap into some of that creative energy.
Did I mention they’re free?
To help preview the student showcases, I talked by phone and email with Patrice Amon, course coordinator for the Immersive Theatre and Social Justice class. (She’s a theater professor at CSU San Marcos.) Her students took charge of the project. They wrote and are directing an original project that encompasses both themes of the Summer Arts course. Note: Unlike other showcases, you need to get (free) tickets in advance for this performance because they are limited.
Here’s our interview:
Q: First off, let’s get some basic vocabulary out of the way. What is social justice?
A: Social justice is the striving for greater equity and human rights.
Related story: As Summer Arts 2022 opens, here are 7 Things to Know about this annual Fresno cultural gem
Q: How about immersive theater?
A: Immersive theater is a form of theatrical performance that centers the audience in the storytelling. In this form audiences get to participate in the story. They walk through the world of the play.
Q: You’re letting the six students enrolled in the course call the shots at your student showcase, which is as it should be. Did the students figure out what they wanted to do by consensus? What was that process like?
A: The students determined the project through a consensus-driven process. The teaching team introduced the concept of immersive theater and shared a variety of examples. We then engaged with an ancient Chinese myth, “Snow and Midsummer.” We looked at how theatrical text can integrate social justice issues within a narrative form. The students then had great conversations about which social justice issues spoke to them and as a group we developed a consensus on our theme for this project.
Q: When you told me that the theme of the performance is focusing on “a radical argument for rest,” I was surprised. I’d been expecting something more along traditional social-justice themes. What was your reaction when you learned what they’d picked?
A: I was surprised by the students’ choices. But we really wanted to center their voices and the things that were bubbling up from the group. There was a large desire to think about mental health, and they had great conversations about contributors to mental wellness and tactics and tools of healing.
Q: Americans work too hard, we’re told. We put in lots of overtime (often unpaid). We don’t even take the vacation days we’re entitled to. (And those vacation days are skimpy compared to Europe.) Are you ever “guilty” of not getting enough rest?
A: I am also challenged to integrate restfulness into my world. Working in the arts I find that the work that I do is so exhilarating and rewarding that I am happy to spend all of my time considering and developing projects. It is a nice reminder to balance that drive and that gusto for my practice into my day.
Q: OK, let’s talk about immersive theater. Some audience members get nervous about interacting with cast members or drawing attention to themselves. Do they need to worry?
A: There’s no need to worry about the interaction in this piece. Audiences will be invited to engage in the very level they are comfortable with. For the audience member who wants to sort of sit back a bit, we have some very gentle practices. For the audience member who wants to contribute more vocally, we have space for them to improv with our actors.
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Q: I don’t want to reveal much about the plot of the performance, but can you give us at least a hint of what people can expect?
A: Audiences can anticipate joining us within two worlds, one space of industrial monotony and the second addressing exterior space. Audiences will be able to engage their full senses in this theatrical piece. They will be able to challenge the assumptions of productivity that capitalism seems to stress and learn about the deep intertwining of labor union organization and restful mental health practices.
Q: When you’re rehearsing immersive theater, how do you account for the spontaneity of the performance? Do you work a lot on improvisation skills?
A: We spend a great deal of time working on improvisation skills with actors for immersive theater pieces. We can never predict how an audience will respond to a prompt or a question, so we play through scenarios many times.
Q: Tell us a little about yourself. What is your take on the social-justice movement in theater these days?
A: I am a theater director and producer and am committed to using my artistic practice to increase opportunities for underrepresented voices. Social justice is something that should be tightly intertwined throughout our artistic practices. Theater is an incredible tool to connect with people to share thoughts and questions with a centering on empathy.