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Pioneering a New Theatre Experience

Jessup’s theatre department has a solid reputation for producing some of the best theatre productions in Northern California. Due to the COVID pandemic, they had to cut their productions short last spring. Even though they couldn’t finish the season, they still received six Elly award nominations for their production of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.” This production was directed by former Disney cast member, Brance Cornelius and was the largest dance show ever performed at Jessup.

The theatre department also won 11 Outstanding Achievement Awards for their fall production of “PICNIC” by William Inge and directed by Jennifer Martin, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences – Visual and Performing Arts Division. “PICNIC”, a second-stage production was produced in the performance lab and only used upcycled items they had on hand. “My favorite memory of rehearsal was when we took the entire cast to an outdoor amphitheater and they performed their rehearsal outside with cell phone flashlights lighting the stage and the sound of crickets in the background,” said Martin. “As most of PICNIC” is set outdoors and it was thrilling to discover how the sensations of the outdoors played upon the characters.”

Although they couldn’t meet face-to-face during the spring semester, theatre students showed up online and gave 100%. “My favorite moment was in Acting II when one of my students “showed up” to perform and had created a scenic design by rearranging her parent’s furniture and even hanging different pictures on her wall for a background. Her period-appropriate skirt was a tablecloth secured with a bobby pin,” said Martin.

This fall, students are meeting face-to-face (socially distanced) with an online option for those who prefer distance learning. The goal is to continue classes in a safe and healthy manner. This means the performance lab is taped out for social distance purposes and students use special clear masks so they can see each other’s faces.

As the theatre department reflects on the challenges ahead, they’re not giving up. Instead, they are confronting the situation head-on. “We, as a department, are going to engage in an exercise in resiliency,” said Martin.

She recently reached out to Jessup’s theatre students with a personal letter and invitation to join them as they pioneer this new theatre experience. She encouraged them with these words.

“There will be things that hunt you, haunt you, or try to stop you. You can try to outrun them, but there might be a time where you may need to turn around and confront them head-on…We want to create and learn together in a flexible and safe space. We will need to come together, six feet apart, in a way that hasn’t really been done before.”

Jessup theatre has proven once again that setbacks are only opportunities to showcase resiliency, adaptability, and creativity. “Nothing, not even a global pandemic, can take away the need to tell stories and gather together in the act of empathetic listening,” said Martin.

We can’t wait to see what they have in store this year!

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