A Letter from the Department Chair
July 20, 2020
Dear Students and Friends of Theatre and Dance,
Today you received a letter from President Harris outlining that all courses will be taught remotely during Fall Term 1. I expect for many of you, particularly majors and performance-active students, this news is hard to receive and process. Combining this news with the continued closure of performance venues, companies, and productions increases this difficulty and has led some to proclaim that theatre and dance are facing an existential crisis. How is it that we can study, train, rehearse, and perform live events in this pandemic? What happens when we take away the spaces, interactions, and magical machinery of performance-making?
I assure you that members of the theatre and dance department have been battling with these questions throughout the summer. In fact, the department unanimously decided in April to offer online courses only, and reaffirmed the decision in late May. This has provided the opportunity to create and engage in a 6-week seminar entitled “Promising Practices for Online Teaching”, to trade ideas with colleagues from around the world, and to listen to student concerns (and successes) from online courses in the Spring. We made this early decision because we acknowledged the challenges posed by hybrid or online pedagogies to an experiential program like theatre and dance. But those challenges can and will be conquered. I am heartened by the power within our team and the rigorous work we have continued throughout the summer. To be clear, all members of our department believe that we can and will provide the strongest possible academic program while making that program more equitable and safer in an online-only format, and we have worked diligently throughout the summer to do so.
Included with this letter is a short video created by your theatre and dance department mentors, which provides an additional message about the importance of stories and storytellers. While watching this video, edited by Professor Celeste Miller, I hear the voices of your mentors and their passion for storytelling. I hear the excitement and energy for crafting stories in new ways and through multiple media. But I also can’t help but hear a warning message as well: storytelling is a necessity.
Right now I am sitting in front of my computer, physically distanced from all of you. This physical distance prays upon our sense of community and provides the opportunity for isolation and doubt to settle in. Physical distance provides the opportunity for those with power to utilize fear and intimidation as a weapon. And physical distance provides opportunities for much worse, such as the kidnapping of our citizens without charges in Portland, gassing and beating peaceful Black Lives Matter protestors across the country, or the targeting of our international residents. I feel the weight of the distance, and the trauma committed against our communities lives not only in my mind but also in my body and soul. Yet, I am hopeful, and the words of my colleagues in this video remind me of what we must continue to do: “Stories Continue. Our work continues. . . Especially now in the midst of a pandemic and a national reckoning with racial injustice, the world needs storytellers,” (Theatre and Dance Video, video transcript).
We must tell stories. We must tell our own stories. We must help tell the stories of those who are silenced. Most importantly, we cannot allow physical distancing to keep us socially distant.
Now more than ever, we must come together to create and tell our stories. We must train and exercise our story-telling muscles. We must do this together.
I am immensely humbled by my colleagues, your mentors, and I am proud to serve in their company. They have built a program to strengthen community, to exercise, to craft, and to imagine. Come with us and learn to tell the important stories, to create original work, and to challenge each other to reimagine what live performance looks like.
You will find a link to the theatre and dance department announcement here. For more information about theatre and dance course offerings and productions this fall, please do not hesitate to reach out to Theatre and Dance or contact me directly. Over the coming week, we will send additional short videos to present a small snippet of courses, productions, and how you might engage together with your peers and with your faculty. Join us.
Assoc. Professor and Department Chair Theatre and Dance Department
Notes About the Department Before Distance Learning that Still Hold True and Will Be Carried Out Virtually
Whether you love to perform, design sets, read and study plays, or want to direct or create your own performances, the Department of Theatre and Dance can provide all of those opportunities. Students are encouraged to explore all facets of theatre and dance both within and outside of the College, and the importance of hands-on experience when it comes to performing and creating and studying. Guests from around the world regularly come to campus to enhance our program. Recently we’ve had guests from Second City, New York, Chicago, Taiwan, England, and alumni like Peter Coyote ’64. We have also sent students to Taiwan for advanced theatre projects, had students go to Minneapolis and Chicago to work with professional dance companies, and regularly send students to study abroad. With three on-campus theatres and a lively community of actors, dancers, designers, faculty and staff, and academicians, our department is a rich and vibrant one that produces four main-stage productions a year as well as supporting student performances, touring shows, and works sponsored/created by other departments. Everyone is invited to be involved in the theatre and dance department, whether it is your major or not, and no matter what your level of experience is. There is always something for everyone in our department.
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