By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau
There was a somber feeling looming over Grand Canyon University’s Ethington Theatre this week as Micah Larsen, Rachel Schumacher and numerous other theatre students disassembled what would have been the set of the highly anticipated production of “The Drowsy Chaperone.”
Nearby dumpsters were loaded with plywood and remnants of bright blue wall paint. The stage itself resembled a construction zone rather than a colorful set belonging to a modern piece with a 1940s feel.
Seats were barren, with the faint sound of Disney music echoing from the workshop where students disassembled weeks of hard work for a production that never got to reach audiences because the coronavirus (COVID-19) forced the suspension of all campus gatherings.
It was a sight that College of Fine Arts and Production Assistant Dean William Symington had never seen before in his 35 years of designing sets.
“I’ve canceled a performance or two because of weather or something, but I’ve never seen this happen,” he said. “They always ask me if we’re sad to tear the shows down, and I say no because we did the performance, have the pictures and have the joy of doing it and we’re ready to move on to the next one. It’s such a cliché, but that’s closure. With this we didn’t get that.
“It’s like getting right up to the starting line of a race that you’ve practiced for and there’s no race.”
Theatre students still were eagerly rehearsing and making progress in completing sets, lighting and costumes last week when the extent of GCU’s efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic started trickling in.
At their final rehearsal before they would start dress rehearsals, they were notified that all campus events for the remainder of the semester, including those within the arts, were canceled. It was emotional news for all — but especially for the seniors, such as Larsen and Schumacher.
“It was a little rough in the end to realize that you get paid to come in and build this set for people to see and then right before it is finished, you get paid to come in and tear it down and it was all for naught,” Larsen said.
Schumacher said she was devastated when she had heard the news but will never forget the department’s response.
“We all kind of came together as a crowd to the last rehearsal, and they didn’t even know if they were going to have a last rehearsal on Friday, and they ended up doing the show as it was — no lights, half-finished set, no costumes and they did it for us,” she said.
“The majors within the COFAP department, if they knew rehearsals were happening, they came and gave them an audience to put on the show for, so that was really special.”
That experience, in addition to the production’s message, which Larsen described as “shining a light on the dark parts of the world,” hit home a little harder for students who will now adapt to an online environment for the rest of the academic school year.
“That’s what the last monologue is about: Theatre is a safe place for people when they’re trying to avoid or take a break from the horrors of the world, and it was put so beautifully in the very end,” he said.
“It was kind of at that point when all of us in the room realized, ‘This is what we’re meant to do,’ even in times like this where there is the fear of a virus going around. This is our whole job, to try to put people at ease from that sort of situation, and it was just nice to know that we’re going to get through this.”
At the conclusion of that final rehearsal and run-through of the show, Larsen says there wasn’t a dry eye in the theatre.
Symington said witnessing that moment was the most moving part of the entire experience.
“The director had them do it like it was a full performance,” he said. “They did the whole show, and I think it was really cathartic and important for them to get through it once to be able to say goodbye to it like that.”
He was equally as moved by some of those same students holding their heads up high throughout the heartbreaking experience. For seniors who are just trying to wrap their head around the thought of having to postpone and in some cases miss entire memories they had looked forward to at the end of their semester, Schumacher says she finds comfort in knowing GCU’s seniors are not alone — spring 2020 seniors around the country are having to process and deal with it as well.
To Larsen, it’s an experience theatre prepared him for — just going with the flow and rolling with the punches.
It may not have been the finale anyone wanted for the school year. But as every great performer knows and what was displayed in that COFAP final rehearsal, the show must go on.
Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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