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Drake Theatre students share thoughts on program

Grace Altenhofen | EIC

Though the students in the Drake Theatre  Department have built strong, lasting relationships between themselves, they don’t always feel the amount of work they put in is appreciated. 

For junior Megan Riordan, a digital media production and theatre design and technology double major, Drake Theater takes up just about her entire weekly schedule. 

“I’m involved in everything that could possibly be going on,” Riordan said. “With my design tech major, I’m responsible for designing an element for every show.”

Riordan is one of about only five design and technology majors this year, all of whom are responsible for some element in each show the theater is putting on this semester.

“First show, I’m in charge of lights, second show props, third show paint. So, I’ve got everything,” Riordan said.

The work doesn’t stop. Riordan had already started getting things ready for the musical “Carrie,” which opens Oct. 27, all while “The Bald Soprano” was still going on. There will only be a two-week period from when “Carrie” ends to when the next show, “Silent Sky,” opens.

Cami Marquart, a junior studying acting, talks about how much work goes into these shows on a weekly basis. 

“I don’t think the public fully understands the work that goes into the shows. We have rehearsals from Monday through Friday, 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., maybe longer,” Marquart said. 

Students put in upwards of 20 or more hours a week and don’t always feel people appreciate all that work.

“20 hours a week, that’s like a part-time job, unpaid, on top of school and other activities. I don’t think people see that,” Marquart said. “So when people ask if I can just leave rehearsal early, I’m like ‘no babe, I can’t, I’m locked in FAC until they let me go.’”

The students put in more work outside of rehearsals too, memorizing lines. With “The Bald Soprano” for example, actors had to work with a dialect coach to do a British accent.

“The audience doesn’t see anything we do besides the finished product,” Marquart said.

A common consensus among theater students is they feel they don’t have much support from the rest of the school.

“Drake’s not as bad as other schools when it comes to valuing the arts, but I wish I could see more from the administration and other students. Right now it’s very lackluster,” said Addie Kuehn, a sophomore majoring in musical theater and journalism.

When choosing a college, Kuehn said her top priority was choosing a school that put equal or greater support towards the arts than athletics or other events. She feels Drake doesn’t fully meet that criteria. 

The students agreed that one thing they’d love to see is improvements to the Fine Arts Center. There has been displeasure among the arts students that buildings like Meredith and Olmsted are getting renovations while FAC continues to get overlooked.

It’s not just the students who think this. Dr. Micheal Rothmayer, the chair of the Theater Department and a Drake University professor since 2000, shared in the students’ pain of not having an adequate fine arts space.

“We are very much in need of both a new performance venue for all the fine arts at Drake, as well as renovations to the existing Harmon Fine Arts Center,” Rothmayer said.

Rothmayer hopes some of these issues will be addressed by The One’s campaign, first announced last fall. 

“It would be nice to have a space we can use and perform in that isn’t falling apart,” Kuehn said.

One of the reasons Kuehn chose Drake was because when she toured the theater, it stuck out right away as more welcoming and inclusive than some other conservatories and theaters around the country, which tend to be more competitive and cutthroat.

When it comes to dynamics between the students within the theater, everyone tends to get along well.

“I love the community we have, we are able to bond in ways that I don’t think other majors can,” Riordan said.

Riordan explained that while this is an environment that can be stressful for everyone, they all still have each other’s backs and there is real love between the students.

“I have found a lot of really fun camaraderie and some really great experiences behind the scenes,” Kuehn said.

After spending enough time backstage and having most classes together, all the theater students have had plenty of time to bond. 

“As a group, we are very close-knit. Which is to be expected when all our classes are together and we spend all day every day in the same building,” said Emma Ahlin, a sophomore studying BFA acting.

Ahlin went on to say that there isn’t as much drama as one would expect in the drama department. Everyone is very supportive of each other. 

“We get to work with everyone in the department and really get to know how they work, learn what their strengths are, and if I ever need help with anything, I know who to go to,” Marquart said.

Rothmayer believes the students are being appropriately challenged and that if the faculty didn’t push the students, it would be doing them a disservice, not preparing them for the true challenge of professional theater. 

“Sometimes the only way to know what you’re truly capable of is to attempt to do more than you thought you could do,” Rothmayer said. “In those attempts, you will fail. That’s okay, we all do, spectacularly on occasion. It’s a necessary component of the learning process.”

The students said the faculty is good at getting them connected with shows or jobs over summer. 

Ahlin interviewed for a directing position at a local middle school in Des Moines, but she said she only heard about it in passing and wished the department advertised more opportunities like that.

Ways students around campus can support the theater department is going to see this semester’s remaining shows, “Silent Sky,” and DTP’s presentation of “The Rabbit Hole”. Information can be found on the Drake Theater’s website or social media. 

Students can also support or even join Drake Theater People, a campus student organization that puts on its own programs and shows anyone is welcome to partake in, regardless of major.

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