In the Long Beach State Theatre Arts courtyard a myriad of art pieces and performances created by students filled the halls during the department’s first showcase on campus in almost two years.
CSULB Head of Scenic and Costume Design Emily MacDonald and Head of Design Martha Carter paired up to coordinate a class that finished with the department’s Saturday, Dec. 4, Performance Art and Design Festival.
“This is a sandbox for folks to play in,” Department Chair Anthony Byrnes said while multiple performances, films, and designs were on display around him in the halls surrounding the McIntosh Building fountain.
“It’s not about getting up on stage in front of 300 people and it being, ‘Is this a success or a failure?’” Byrnes said. “The attempt is there and I think you can feel that in the work too.”
Third-year CSULB acting major, Conor Messier, started his sound design experience with a welcoming recommendation for his audience.
“Hello and welcome to ‘Simply Imagine,’” Messier announced. “Feel free to close your eyes if you are comfortable. I want you to imagine you are walking through a forest. Feel the wind flowing through your clothing. Smell the pine of the trees. Feel the dirt under your feet as you walk.”
For Messier and the rest of the students in the class, this was the first taste of normalcy on-campus since the COVID-19 pandemic changed the usually busy, action-packed theater building in March of 2020.
Bernadette Elias, a technical theatre major who specializes in set design and lighting, took the opportunity to step outside of his comfort zone and perform a movement piece that helped him get through a rough patch.
Elias said his display helped pave his recuperation from a forearm fracture that almost ended his journey as a stage and lighting designer.
With the fountain as his backdrop, “Imaginary Enemy,” a powerful, strongly lit solo act, relieved Elias from the pain left behind caused by a long scar on his arm that reminded him of the tough times.
“A lot of workshop and carpentry is involved in stage,” Elias said. “That was my journey. How am I going to remain an artist while still having these slight physical injury restrictions and with the inspiration, help and support from my classmates, teachers, family and close friends, it made it all possible.”
Like Elias, Cole Shoemaker, a would-be audio and lighting designer, and aspiring actor, Messier, also stepped out of their shell for their performance.
Messier said the experience in the class forced everyone to become a community by helping each other through their struggles that come with learning new things.
“I like to focus on acting, but I chose to do a sound piece because I really like to focus on little details,” Messier said. “With sound, you can hear when something is not right or you can hear when something isn’t natural and I just like to pick out those little details and make sure everything sounds perfect.”
In the three-hour long audio and visual production of “Fractured Mementos” by Shoemaker, a third element was added to his specialty of audio and lighting.
By using a projector that showed visuals on the walls of the University Theater, coupled with musical works from ambient musician Leyland James Kirby, Shoemaker’s piece displayed a six-stage representation of memory loss.
“My step grandmother, she unfortunately passed away from Alzheimer’s disease like three years ago so I kind of wanted to make this ode to her,” Shoemaker said while looking up at his project. “I wanted to reflect on that process of not only having someone go through that disease, but also the people around them watch them go through this disease and feel the pain that goes with it.”
Byrnes said the crew endured a unique situation during the last two years in the theater business and believes students will come back ready to express themselves in new ways.
“I think our students are going to come back with a much different awareness and a much different consciousness,” Byrnes said. “They’re going to come back as different artists and I think this class is a possibility for them to explore and see that.”