College theatre beyond the Whitman bubble

Jaime Fields, A&E Reporter

Although it can be easy for students to get stuck in the “Whitman bubble” when it comes to theatre, Walla Walla has many opportunities to get out and consume theatre including at its two other higher learning institutions.

Walla Walla Community College (WWCC) offers a variety of drama classes and traditionally has three mainstage productions per year: a comedy in the fall, a drama in the winter and a musical in the spring. Shows generally feature both students and community members, making the theatre a place where many students find connections.

Adrianna May, who is not currently attending WWCC but plans to go back soon, had previously done theatre in high school, but explained that going to WWCC gave her a deeper understanding of the art.

“I had done theatre before at Lincoln High School… and their theatre program was awesome for students who had never been in theatre before,” said May. “It showed me the first baby steps to theatre and got me interested in it, and then going to [the community college] showed me more of the art form of theatre and really delv[ed] into it.”

May was in both the fall and winter shows last year, stepping in to fill a role in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and featured as a lead in Dangerous Little Creatures, written by Walla Walla local Dana M. Crist.

“That [show] was fun to do; it was also interesting having the playwright in the room while getting notes from the director,” explained May. “Sometimes they would be opposing and sometimes they would be perfectly aligned.”

Unfortunately, Dangerous Little Creatures was cut short by the implementations of restrictions related to the pandemic, much to the disappointment of those at WWCC as well as the playwright.

Illustration by Kiara Paninos.

Madison Smith, who is also currently not attending WWCC but plans to return when classes are in person again, was also involved in both the fall and winter shows last year, acting in Romeo and Juliet and functioning as both actor and stage manager with Dangerous Little Creatures.

“Having [Dangerous Little Creatures] cut short was kind of like having a rug pulled out from underneath us. We never got a conclusion, so I think because of that there were glimmers of “maybe” for a short while,” said Smith. “But since then, I know there hasn’t been much of anything planned.” 

Smith explained that with instructors busy trying to figure out online classes, anything theatre-related is currently on a back burner. However, both May and Smith are hopeful for the future and looking forward to getting back in the theatre.

“Despite there being no particular plans ahead, I know lots of people are still preparing and hopeful for the return of in-person theatre,” said Smith, “or at least otherwise missing it quite a bit.”

Walla Walla University (WWU), which offers a variety of drama classes as well as a minor, also had a show interrupted in mid-March. Similar to WWCC, the university offers three shows in a year: a fall play, which is a musical on alternate years; a Festival of Shorts, similar to Whitman’s One Act Play Festival; and a show in the spring.

Rylee Blake, a senior psychology major who is pursuing a drama minor, has been involved in every show at WWU since she started school. Blake explained that the spring show, Twelve Angry Men (which they changed to Twelve Angry Jurors), by Reginald Rose, had just started its process when the school was forced to move online.

“We had it cast, it was all ready, and then things took a really wild turn,” said Blake. “So [the cast] basically got together to talk about what do we want to do it was not possible for us to do the show we were already going to do, even to adapt it to an online format, because of the show rights, so we had to completely scrap that idea.”

However, the cast still wanted to be able to do some sort of show, so they started looking at other options. According to Blake, Playscripts an independent publisher  had released some free scripts, which the cast then read, discussed and selected from.

“[We] decided on two scripts we were interested in and that were written fairly recently I assume, because they were designed to be done on a [Zoom] format so we decided to do that,” said Blake. “It was very interesting, a very different process, quite an experience, but that worked out fairly well for us.”

According to Blake, WWU is currently preparing for the Festival of the Actors, which features six student-written scripts and will be taking place part in-person and part online — much how the school is now part in-person and part online. Claira Eastwood, a junior Strategic Communication major and drama minor who has been involved with the department ever since she got to campus, wrote “The Pie,” one of the scripts featured.

“We found out… the middle of September, and I randomly had an idea and it was one of those fluke moments where you just write something and it’s all out there,” explained Eastwood. “So I wrote it in one night and edited over the course of a couple of days and then sent it in.”

Eastwood explained that it wasn’t too much of a challenge to write for an online format, and that she just tried to make the conversation natural.

“The whole conversation takes place over facetime; I tried to make it covid-friendly without bringing it up,” added Eastwood. “We go to the theatre to forget about problems and feel happy for a change.”

Jerry Entze, one of the co-interim directors of the WWU drama department, explained that although this season has been challenging, he is confident in the future of the theatre.

“The challenge has been to find ways to still allow our students to participate in the creative process that is the theatre. They love and crave not only the creative aspect but also the sense of community that comes from working together to put on a show,” said Entze. “Theatre is a resilient art form that has survived many challenges in the past and we will survive this pandemic and come out stronger.”

More information about WWU’s upcoming Festival of the Actors can be found here.