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October 4, 2021

An unusual venue — the Lower East Parking Garage — becomes a stage.

The coronavirus pandemic meant that many departments had to get creative in teaching and assisting their students.

For JCCC’s Theatre department, it meant rethinking the season entirely.

Productions are an essential part of JCCC’s Theatre program. They allow students to put their skills to the test and take what they learned in the classroom onto the stage. “In normal circumstances, we do 4 to 5 shows per year, most of them in the Black Box Theatre,” said Scott Stackhouse, Assistant Professor and Artistic Coordinator for the Theatre department.

The Bodker Black Box Theatre in the Midwest Trust Center is a special venue, as it’s reserved exclusively for Theatre students. The up-to-date space is the main spot for performances and classes. About 2 to 3 shows per year, as well as most acting, movement and voice classes, take place there. Finding a substitute space for students to safely work would be a challenge.

JCCC Theatre in the Park…ing Lot!

The Theatre department found the perfect space, unexpectedly, in the Midwest Trust Center’s Lower East Parking Garage.

An outdoor space with ventilation and social distancing for actors and audiences with an appropriate set of safety protocols for rehearsals and performances, the Lower East Parking Garage was a surprisingly seamless fit.

“We cannot control everything,” said Stackhouse. “But we feel that we’ve found a way to work in the most creative and responsible manner during these circumstances.”

Rising to the Occasion

So far, the Theatre department has performed four plays in the Lower East Parking Garage: Defying Gravity by Jane Anderson, Lone Star by James McLure, Graceland by Ellen Byron and The Aliens by Annie Baker.

The department will continue to perform in the Lower East Parking Garage, with shows lined up for the future.

“Currently, we are rehearsing This Random World by Steven Dietz and then will do an original work written by one of our adjunct faculty, Erik Meixelsperger, called The Kitten's Cry, in late October,” said Stackhouse.

Working underground hasn’t come without its challenges. Stackhouse explained that it can be difficult creating plays in a space that is not meant for theatre. One of the biggest hurdles was getting the lighting and sound just right for the space.

“We ended up using a generator upstairs in the parking lot to power our lights and sound,” he said. “Then as the weather changes, you need to deal with cold weather and sometimes crazy wind.”

Charlie Meacham, who was involved in the second show last season, Lone Star, embraced the challenges that came with the new stage.

“It was a great opportunity to get our voices working and learn new ways to use them,” he said. “Weather was also a huge factor in learning to adapt to the space. Lone Star was being worked and put up in November, so weather was difficult to work around from time to time, but in the long run it didn’t bug us much. We were happy to create and collaborate.”

Stackhouse knows that working in theatre is always unpredictable. Experiences like these teach students to easily adapt and work in unusual situations.

“These are all great challenges for us and our students,” he said. “I've told our students that in your career, there won't be many times you have ideal circumstances for a show, so make the best of what you have and get it done.”

What Comes Next?

That lesson enhances the classroom instruction at JCCC. Stackhouse explains that students can choose to study a performance or technical track, and both are very hands-on. “Theatre students at JCCC learn foundational methods in either tech or performance,” Stackhouse said. “Then they mix their techniques with their creativity in productions.”

After earning an associate degree in either the performance track or technical track, Theatre students usually transfer to a four-year college to pursue acting, teaching or working in a theatre.

After working on shows both above and underground, Meacham believes his time at JCCC has set him up for success in his future career.

“This specific department has been a true blessing, and I know a lot of students would agree,” said Meacham. “Not only does this department help set us up for that next chapter in our careers, but it also gives us the tools for both the stage side and tech side and sets us up to be better collaborators in the business and for life.”

Step Into the Role of a Lifetime!

Want to be part of one of the best theatre programs in the Midwest? Check out our state-of-the-art facilities and dedicated faculty! Learn more about the Theatre program.