This fall, in response to a total shift in delivery of instruction, performances and rehearsals, the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith Drama Club took initiative to find innovative ways to practice their craft through a series of student-led workshops throughout semester, each welcoming students from across campus to participate.
The Theatre Department was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the cancelation of plays and performances during the fall semester. But through the department’s close work with student leaders in the Drama Club, students whose schedules felt barren without their typical production projects were given the chance to learn how to build sets, sew costumes and apply stage makeup, skills that will be put to good use once performances resume.
“Our plays were the bulk of the semester, where strong relations were created, and our skills and crafts were being showcased,” said Allen Phetchareun, a junior theatre major with a concentration in acting and directing. “I took the opportunity of not having a play to get back to the basics. We can come back better and stronger, as if we've never taken a break.”
The workshops included lessons on stagecraft lead by Phetchareun, of Fort Smith, props by Tori Storm Buie of Fort Smith, sewing by Carlee Davis of Van Buren, painting by Aleah Hill of Lavaca, lighting by Dillon Hudson of Centerton, improv by Brandon Stone of Poteau, Oklahoma, stage combat by Drew Duch of Sallisaw, Oklahoma, and special effects makeup by Jessica Whitekiller or Sallisaw. Workshops were held at the Breedlove Auditorium at UAFS to allow for proper social distancing.
Phetchareun emphasized that most of the student workshop leaders have honed on their skills and craft for many years.
“Being able to teach as well as give students a chance to practice their own leadership skills has given them the confidence in knowing that they’re proficient enough in their craft,” he said.
Whitekiller, as senior vocal music major minoring in theatre, said teaching the SFX Makeup Workshop was an amazing experience.
“I went in knowing that the topic I chose was not a typical theatre topic and didn’t expect many people to show up,” she said.
But they did show up, and every participant was willing to try new things and delve outside of their own knowledge of special effects makeup.
“It was a true honor to teach a Drama Club Workshop, and I hope to be able to do it again.”
The workshops were not just limited to theatre students, which attracted participants from a variety of majors across the UAFS campus. Kenzi Sutherlin, a freshman psychology major minoring in social work, said although she doesn’t study the arts, she does have a passion for theatre.
“Everyone was very patient and took time to explain things to me and make me feel included,” she said. “I actually ended up learning a few valuable life skills, especially during the sewing workshop. I'm even considering changing my minor to theatre so I can do something I really enjoy as well.”
Closing out the fall semester, the Theatre Department with the Drama Club in collaboration with NuMedia, a student group for media communication majors, are creating complex sets and production areas to help students produce top-tier short films in a variety of scenes without ever leaving the UAFS campus. This collaboration will also allow the students a chance to submit their short films to the Be Well Arkansas - Cancel COVID on Campuses Video Challenge, sponsored by the Arkansas Department of Health, and the River Valley Film Festival.
Phetchareun said the club is open to considering production ideas from all students across campus, adding to the well-received slate of workshops already in place. Students can submit their ideas or join the crew by contacting the club on Facebook at UAFS Drama Club or on its Instagram page, @uafstheatre.