Story by LEIGH MOYER
photos by JOSHUA SHAVER
Pima Community College Theatre Arts’ program coordinator Todd Poelstra and theater faculty Chris Will see every moment with a theater full of people as a teachable moment.
Each season is structured to contain a children’s show in the fall, a musical in the spring, and either a contemporary piece or a classical piece rounding out each semester for a total of four productions per year.
While chatting, though, they quickly moved past these nominal constraints to the boundlessness of what theater offers.
“We could do Disney or something very popular, but we don’t,” Will said, explaining why they are producing “The Sun Serpent,” the third installment of a bilingual (or in this case, trilingual) series by José Cruz González. “We’re doing ‘Sun Serpent’ because it is culturally important, and because the kids who see this show, who come on field trips, probably wouldn’t come to theater otherwise. Those kids need to see this work. Kids should have the very best theater because they’re the future of theater.”
“And it isn’t just the grade-school students, it’s our students, they need that, too,” Poelstra said. “We really want to change the dynamic. We want students of color to see themselves onstage and see stories that might be their story on stage and have opportunities to imagine themselves on stage.
While many theaters have a theme tying the season together, Will pointed out that can be difficult or even inappropriate in an educational setting.
“We need a balance, because we need to give these students a variety of pieces since we don’t know where they’re going to be heading,” he said. “It’s our job to give them the experiences that will be good on a resume and get them roles in local theaters. We’re the training ground for them.”
There’s one unifying trait among this season’s plays, although it might be more obvious to a director than to audiences. Each show is an ensemble piece, so while there will be a Sherlock and a Watson, for example, there will be a whole cast of characters that don’t have to fit a specific type. Casting is done based on who is excited, who is a promising young actor and who gets what the directors are trying to create.
Poelstra had a number of examples: “For all our shows this year, the idea of casting can, for the most part, go in any direction. We’re already making changes. ‘The Sun Serpent’ is written as two brothers, now it is a sister and a brother. So as far as gender, and certainly any other category of identity, almost anything could happen in almost any of the shows. It is challenging with a dance-heavy musical; we have a student who is an amazing singer and in a wheelchair. I don’t know if she’ll be in the show before auditions, but I’m interested in the idea conceptually. And Watson could be anybody. Or, so could Sherlock. Anything could happen. It depends on who shows up and what they bring to auditions.”
When Poelstra and Will choose plays, they’re looking at the story and how it is best told. Casting is a secondary consideration, focusing on which actors bring the works most vividly to life, rather than seeking to fill the roles with a specific type of person.
Will summed it up best: “A lot of people become actors because they think they want to play all these different characters, but in reality it’s the opposite. You find all those characters within yourself.”
For more of Leigh’s writting check out www.tamingofthereview.com