Stephens

Stephens Auditorium has had very few live performances since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

ISU Theatre’s “On the Horizon: Festival of Student-Produced Work” opened Feb. 25 and closed its curtains Feb. 28. 

The festival was presented as a livestream and featured 10 student-produced performances with pieces ranging from Zoom calls styled as plays to animated short films.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the stages of Stephens Auditorium and Fisher Theater have been left quiet and empty. Safety protocols have made performing live difficult for the theater program. Between the canceled spring 2020 season, the few virtual performances and the socially distanced live performances of the fall 2020 season, the theater department has been looking for ways to provide their students the opportunity to direct, perform and design.

“We’ve been trying to find ways to keep as many students involved as possible,” said Cason Murphy, assistant professor of music and theater and facilitator of the event. “One of the things we were talking about was finding a way for students to be a part of the process of creating a show rather than us saying, ‘These are the projects we are going to do.’”

This is how the "On the Horizon" festival was born. 

First-time writers, producers, directors, designers, composers and actors as well as seasoned performing arts students came together to create a set of uniquely told stories covering topics such as isolation, anxiety, loss and abuse.

The play “Having Been, Still Being” follows a group of five friends having dinner over a Zoom call. Their petty bickering soon evolves into heated debate as the audience sees the anxiety, fear and anger caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in full force. 

“I drew inspiration from how my mental health was during the pandemic at the time,” said George Poll, the writer of “Having Been, Still Being." “It’s like if my brain broke into five pieces and had dinner.” 

Despite the dark themes of the festival pieces, the event itself offered hope to everyone who has faced adversity the past year.

“The title of the festival alludes that there is something better on the horizon,” Murphy said. “The undercurrent of all of this is that no matter how dark it gets, no matter how dark the pieces get, no matter how dark our feelings get, there is always that sense that it is just as dark before the dawn, and if you keep looking at the horizon, there is always something better coming along.”

For students, this event provided them with a long-needed sense of community and a hope for future productions.

“Honestly, I have been in a very low place,” said Elise Cameron, choreographer for “Legacy” and actress in “Petals." “I haven’t been feeling as creative. I have craved being in my theater community, showing the world my talent and sharing my thoughts and feelings to the world through my art. It was just amazing to see my choreography on stage and to tell people that we were performing again.”

The “On the Horizon” festival was an impactful experience for the students involved and a strong start to the ISU Theatre 2021 season. 

“It felt like coming home,” Poll said. 

ISU Theatre’s next events are “Facing Our Truths: Student Monologues on Race Privilege” on March 22 and “Songs for a New World" on April 19.

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