All the world’s a stage

Staging plays is great, but the biggest delight to Beate Pettigrew, professor, theatre, is the making of “solid human beings.”

The students who take theatre at JCCC learn valuable skills, both individually and as a team, Pettigrew said, and those skills have led to impressive results on and off the stage.

“Businesses are attracted to our students because theatre teaches collaboration,” Pettigrew said. “It also teaches how to be a good communicator, which is so important in any field.”

The theatre department at JCCC is run by two full-time faculty members and a handful of adjunct instructors and staff members. A core group of 20 students have earned performance scholarships, but an even larger group has joined for no other reason than the love of the stage.

That affection has propelled them to successes such as the Region 5 Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. JCCC has been invited to perform in three of the last five years – a feat all the more amazing when one considers the judging process.

Pettigrew said the festival judges select shows based on performance video and reports from scouts who attend the shows. Neither the videos nor the reports contain the name of the school.

“There’s no selection based on the fact that we’re a community college,” Pettigrew said. “Someone could say, ‘Oh, you got in because they wanted to choose a community college for balance.’ But they don’t know who they’re watching, and they’re only after the best,” she said.

When Pettigrew selects a play to be produced, she seeks input from other department members, she said. She tries to find a balance in the types of show offered year to year, be it musical, children’s theatre, classical or experimental.

“Experimental works well for our theatrical home,” Pettigrew said, since the Bodker Black Box Theatre – the working theatre for academic shows on campus – lends itself to intimate, edgy works of experimental theatre.

The Bodker Black Box Theatre may be home, but the department has made use of most of the facilities at the Carlsen Center, including the 1,300-seat Yardley Hall. Students and staff staged its recent production of “Anatomy of Gray” there to prepare for the Kennedy Center festival. “Anatomy of Gray” was first staged in the 410-seat Polsky Theatre, but Yardley Hall gave students an idea of the festival’s 2012 venue: C.Y. Stephens Auditorium at Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. (Stephens Auditorium seats 2,747 patrons, still twice as big as Yardley.)

“We have wonderful facilities here – unbelievable facilities,” Pettigrew said. When students search for a transfer school, Pettigrew said, many are disappointed with the theatre facilities. “It’s difficult to find a four-year school that exceeds what we have here.”

Few of the students who participate in theatre at JCCC will become professionals in the craft, though a few have managed careers in New York or Los Angeles, she said.

“Only 2 percent of all theatre graduates work in professional theatre,” Pettigrew said. “We don’t expect our students to make theatre their profession.”

Yet they could if they wanted to, Pettigrew explains, because they receive the instruction needed to compete anywhere.

“We don’t mollycoddle our students,” she said. “They get excellent training here at JCCC.”