Fresno State theater students get a unique opportunity as undergraduates to work for the Experimental Theatre Company.
Unlike other productions seen on campus, the ETC is a student-run and directed production with only advisor Daniel Herring to assist. Students submit a concept script to the board of directors, comprised of fellow students.
“What we look for in a production is not your typical play,” Herring said. “We want something we can experiment with.”
Students get the chance to do all of the work to put on a show, from directing to making the set to acting. At most schools with theater departments, undergraduates do not get this kind of opportunity. The ETC gives students a start to their resume, especially for those who direct full productions.
“Very few undergraduates graduate with ‘director’ under their belts,” Herring said. “Mostly graduate students get this kind of experience. I didn’t even get to direct a full play until grad school.”
“Dear Harvey,” written by Patricia Loughrey, was this semester’s ETC production chosen and directed by Miguel Gastelum. “Dear Harvey” is a documentary styled play that tells the story of Harvey Milk. In the 1970s, Milk fought for the rights of homosexuals, women and minorities.
Up until the 1970s, a homosexual could be sent to jail for just being a homosexual. These principles are why Gastelum chose this play. A lot of people don’t even know who Milk is, let alone the things he did. Milk was assassinated in 1978 after only serving 11 months on the San Francisco City Board of Supervisors.
“I chose “Dear Harvey” because of the message it delivers to the community,” Gastelum said. “We tend to have a lot more conservatives in the Valley.”
Matt Freitas, theatre arts major, was an actor in “Dear Harvey.” Freitas chose to audition for the play because of the message the play conveys. Freitas said he saw a production of “Dear Harvey” in Utah.
“It appeals to me and is a very personal play,” Freitas said. “I fell in love with the piece.”
There are many benefits ETC gives students, but Freitas said it gives students who weren’t cast in main productions much-needed stage experience. It is still a show that takes a lot of dedication but less time is spent working on these events.
Students rehearsed for about six weeks, four days a week for two hours. This doesn’t include outside time spent learning lines. Unlike most productions, this production was staged in documentary style, not speaking character to character. In some ways it can be harder to learn lines in which characters do not interact directly with the cast. In these kinds of plays, it’s difficult to tell if an actor forgets a line, but it’s more obvious if an actor mixes up a date or an important fact.
“When you have other characters you interact with, if you mess up the other person is there to help you,” Kelsey Deroian, theater arts major, said. “With this play there is a lot of factual information that you cannot forget.”
Much like Freitas, Deroian had seen a performance of “Dear Harvey” before. She wanted to be a part of something with such a strong message.
“It is important to share Harvey’s legacy,” Gastelum said.