While theaters across the country remain closed because of the pandemic, the University of Idaho Department of Theatre is envisioning and planning for a more beautiful tomorrow.In a livestream town hall meeting Friday, department Chairman Robert Caisley will discuss the future of professional summer theater on the Palouse. People are invited to hear his ideas for reincarnating the program.
Caisley, who became department chairman one year ago, said it has been his goal since the beginning to figure out a way to revive the theater. The program featured live plays and musicals that alternated throughout the summer. It was separate from the theater department and often staffed with guest artists from outside the area who were hired for the summer to act, direct or design shows. The UI shut the program down in 2016 after more than 60 years.
“The purpose of the town hall is to, first, get a clear sense of the community’s desire to see live theatre brought back during the summer months,” Caisley said in an email.
He will then lay out a plan for what he thinks would be a sustainable model for a new summer program. The meeting will be followed by a livestream of two new plays performed as a thank-you to patrons and a benefit to raise money for relaunching IRT in summer 2021. People can visit the department’s website to register to join the meeting and view performances.
Caisley described the UI’s theater department as “thriving and growing.” Over the past five seasons, 24,385 people attended department productions, which usually include four to six mainstage shows during the academic year, along with other shorter plays, festivals and events. Because of its rapidly expanding Master of Fine Arts theater program, the department will experience an enrollment increase of close to 95 percent this fall, he said.
While it may seem counterintuitive to attempt to launch a campaign to revive summer theater on the Palouse during a pandemic, Caisley said he’s thinking optimistically about what the future holds for live performing arts.
“When this pandemic is over, I believe that people will place a premium on the shared live experience,” he said. “I think theater is going to enjoy a kind of renaissance.”
He doesn’t think it will look the same as it did in the past, however.
“It’s certainly going to be a challenge,” he said. “And the model for how we produce theater after this tough financial downturn will have to be radically different, but the current zeitgeist also presents an incredible opportunity for theaters around the country, and the world, to redefine who they are, overhaul their mission, and emerge from this moment with a renewed sense of purpose and momentum. I’m hoping that people who live in this community will feel the same way and will want to help make this plan a reality.”
The new Idaho Repertory Theatre’s focus would be on developing and presenting new works, with an emphasis on new comedies, and also works that amplify the voices of Black, Indigenous and people of color, along with artists and stories from other communities that have been traditionally underserved, he said.
The town hall session will be followed by a reading of Caisley’s play “The Open Hand,” featuring the original cast from the department’s fall 2019 production. The performance will be streamed again Saturday and Sunday.
At 6 p.m. July 31 and Aug. 1, the department will present a livestream reading of Choctaw playwright Randy Reinholz’s play “Under a Big Sky,” featuring professional Native American guest artists. The play is set in Montana and is a heart-warming tale about identity.
Both plays are free to view, but the department is encouraging people to make a tax-deductible donation to support the relaunch of Idaho Repertory Theatre.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Town hall meeting on the future of summer theater on the Palouse.
WHEN: 6 p.m. Friday, July 24.
WHERE: Livestream on Zoom.
OF NOTE: The meeting will be followed by a benefit reading of “The Open Hand,” by Robert Caisley, “a serio-comic meditation” on the nature of generosity. Additional livestream performances are 6 p.m. Saturday, July 25 and 3 p.m. Sunday, July 26.
WHAT: “Under a Big Sky,” by Randy Reinholz.
WHEN: 6 p.m. July 31 and Aug. 1.
WHERE: Livestream on Zoom.
OF NOTE: The cast includes Kalana Queypo (Blackfeet, Hawaiian), Samantha Bowling (Cherokee), Sheila Tousey (Menominee/Stockbridge-Munsee), Olivia Espinosa (Azteca) and Kelly Quinnett, of Moscow.
COST: Free. Donations to relaunch Idaho Repertory Theatre are encouraged.