Every year, the ENC theatre department schedules its fall musical to coincide with Homecoming weekend. Theatre professor and director Tara Brooke Watkins said this is not only to entertain returning graduates, but to also allow alumni the opportunity to participate in a variety of roles.
“It’s important for current students to know that they can graduate and work in the field, and come back and contribute at their alma mater,” Watkins said.
ENC graduate Michael Amaral is one example. He returned this fall as the musical director for ENC’s production of Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat.
“Having Michael shows that his degree in musical education – something he’s still doing around Boston – is a nice example for students,” Watkins said. “And he is now giving back to the institute that trained him.”
Watkins said she tries to cast only current ENC students in major or lead roles, but alumni can still be included in shows. Graduate Sam Kish didn’t discover his love of theatre until he was an upperclassman. Watkins allowed him to continue to participate in the shows after he graduated.
“If students discover that passion late in their time here, we shouldn’t stop giving those opportunities to them,” Watkins said.
Another alumnus, and current professor and program director in ENC’s social work department, Dr. Stacey Barker expressed interest to Watkins about getting involved in theatre.
Barker said she faced challenges on stage, but being a faculty member in a show with students was just as rewarding as it was challenging. She said the environment of working on a show created a sense of camaraderie – and familiarity.
“I had to be more comfortable with students referring to me by first name,” Barker said. “But it also gave me more of a personal opportunity to get to know students.”
Barker said she sees theatre as a unique way to see different perspectives.
“[For] Christian artists who are compelled to integrate theatre with faith, I see theatre being an opportunity to expand people’s viewpoints, to offer different perspectives, and an opportunity then for discussion about what you saw and what you heard,” she said.
Watkins said the involvement of faculty in theatrical productions is another way for them to connect with students, as a way to build a network and foster camaraderie on campus.
Watkins said she wanted to do Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat for a long time since ENC is a Christian institution and this is a story from the Bible. Last year, with the loss of the theatre and music majors, Watkins realized the time was right to tell this story.
“Joseph is about the art of storytelling, and we can’t lose that,” she said. “Joseph’s entire story is about interpreting dreams, interpreting stories as artwork, then growing from that interpretation.”
Watkins said she wants audience members to understand the importance of the arts, and to make sure people realize that theatre is crucial for a community.
“When Jesus uses parables, he’s actually asking people to step into the role of someone else in their minds in order to understand how to handle different situations,” she said. “At the heart, it’s about storytelling and empathy and helping people see through other people’s eyes. I approached Joseph through that lens.”
Watkins had the actors who portrayed Joseph’s brothers enter the auditorium as if they were members of the audience. During the opening number, the narrator invited the actors one by one to come up on stage where members of the ensemble dressed them in brightly colored costumes over their drab-looking clothes.
“The idea of pulling people up from the audience came from my belief that anyone can find a home in the theatre,” she said. “Anyone can play any role in theatre. You can be made into someone else with a costume or a wig or a moustache or a beard…. The theatre lets you be someone else if only for a short time.”
Actual audience members were invited to participate in the show at other moments. At one point, a conga line wound through the auditorium inviting audience members to join and follow cast members up onto the stage.
Watkins said she envisions other ways for alumni to be involved in theatre productions at ENC. She suggested implementing an annual alumni show, in which graduates come back to ENC to direct, design, and act in their own show.
“People who have never done theatre before should consider giving it a try,” said Barker. “There’s a sense of community of people involved in the theatre. You will get to realize that you’re part of something bigger than yourself.”