Theatre and Dance Department responds to the passing of Kevin Walker

Mo Dow, Campus Life Reporter

This summer, Whitman College students received the news that longtime Master Electrician and Sound Engineer for the Harper Joy Theatre, Kevin Walker, had passed away. This came only months after his position was terminated as part of the FSR cuts. Walker worked with the college for 13 years, alongside a senior lecturer in the theater and dance department who has now assumed much of Walker’s position, Nate Tomsheck. 

Jay Tyson—a senior theater and film & media studies double major—spoke about Walker and how the department has changed in the wake of his death. Tyson first heard about Walker’s passing when they received a phone call from Dr. Laura Hope, the chair of the department of theater and dance. Tyson then proceeded to help inform alumni they had spent time with in the theater department who had recently graduated. After the pandemic shut down the theater department almost entirely for over a year, many of the students that had worked closely with Walker had already left Whitman, leaving Tyson one of the few who remained.

“It’s been tough for those of us who were still around: a lot of the students that knew him have graduated…. Those who are left have definitely felt it: for one, just his absence…. But we are trying to keep spirits up, cuz they’re all these new students who don’t really know what’s going on in that department,” Tyson said.

Still, members of the theater and dance department have continued to work hard to put on new productions under these difficult circumstances. According to Tyson, although the recent play “The Revolutionists” was performed without too much trouble, the path to get there was far from easy.

“The first production went well, but there were a lot of bumps in the road… It’s definitely more difficult to set up a show when we are down a few faculty, and also need to basically retrain our whole staff. But I think there is a lot of enthusiasm to get back into it that kind of makes up for it,” Tyson said.

All in all, Tyson thinks that members of the theater and dance department simply won’t be able to keep burning the candle from both ends in the long run.

“We definitely need someone to be hired to fill that position again…Faculty-wise [Tomsheck] is pretty much on his own. That’s not sustainable, you need more than one person running a theater,” Tyson said.

Another senior in the theater and dance department, Alyx Kruger, has also been dealing with the fallout of both the FSR cuts and Walker’s death. With the faculty in the department so overwhelmed, some students have worked to help keep the department running, Kruger included. Still faculty members are left with increased workloads that could be difficult to maintain.

“They’re having to wear different hats, each one of them. I think that’s probably the biggest challenge. Theatre has a lot of different specializations, but when you only have four or five faculty and staff, it means you can’t focus on one specialization, but it all still needs to get done,” Kruger said.

Kruger has felt the impact of Walker’s passing not just in the context of a changing working environment, but as a personal loss as well. 

“It was just really unfortunate to hear—that you have to say goodbye to a colleague and a faculty member. You say goodbye again for the last time, without even being able to say goodbye. That sucks,” Kruger said.

Although nothing official has yet been done to commemorate Walker’s life and time at Whitman, a memorial is currently being arranged by faculty, with no set date as of yet.