SUU Alumni Found Online Theatre Festival

Published: October 15, 2020 | Author: Lyndsey Nelson | Read Time: 4 minutes

SUU alumni and students in Online Theater Festival productionOver the summer, Southern Utah University alumni Henry Ballesteros, Wil Cowser, and Amanda DeBry came together to create the Online Theatre Festival, a festival run entirely through online video conferencing technology with plays premiering through YouTube live-streams. The Online Theater Festival's first season took place this past summer and featured four shows all written, directed, and performed by SUU students, faculty, and alumni.

The rise of COVID-19 in the United States has led to mass closures in the entertainment industry. With theaters closing around the country and theatre companies postponing and canceling their summer seasons, students have struggled to find a way to explore their creativity and express themselves in a safe environment.

One of the major adjustments the Online Theatre Festival came up against was figuring out how to direct and perform a play entirely online. Ballesteros, Cowser, and DeBry were eager to start the project and Cowser took the helm in directing their first piece: a fifteen-minute sitcom-style one-act,  “The Pigeons”, written by SUU alumni Ian Allred.

“I wanted it to feel theatrical in the way that we read the lines with each other, but what’s weird about it was, you have to look and sound like you’re acting to somebody when they’re in an entirely different city,” said Cowser.

“I want to give credit to Wil for taking the first show, because I sat in on his rehearsals and the way that he directed it kind of set the standard for how we would do the rest of the season,” said Ballesteros. “Each of our shows was directed differently until at the end we blended the three processes together.”

Their second show, “Unstable Connections”, was a major success for the company. DeBry, who directed the piece, was contacted by the Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival and asked to submit her show, which then went on to win Outstanding Student Production at the festival. Appearing in the festival gave the group exposure to a wider audience, with many people praising their efforts.

“I wanted to see what the students are going through when we’re asking them to do these things, so I thought maybe I should go through one and see it from that end of things,” said SUU Professor Peter Sham, who performed in “Unstable Connections”. “Amanda DeBry brought a lot of her film experience into it, and I thought it worked really well.”

Looking back at their summer season, all three of the directors expressed pride in what they were able to accomplish. Ballesteros found himself especially emotional as he recalled the experience collaborating with his friends.

"When I was sitting in on Wil’s rehearsals, and everyone was there on the Zoom call, it felt like we were on campus again and I miss that. I miss that for us,” said Ballesteros. “I really love that we all came together. Art is important, and it doesn’t show more than it did in what we did this summer. The pandemic has taught me that it’s so important that we have art because when we don’t have it, we just kind of deteriorate.”

Going forward, Ballesteros, Cowser, and DeBry are planning for a second season to take place this fall. They have also submitted their final piece from the summer, a fifteen-minute musical one-act directed by Ballesteros, to the Rochester Fringe Festival. The Rochester Fringe Festival took place between September 15 and 26, with their piece, “The Box”, available to view throughout the entire festival. The Online Theatre Festival is planning to go nonprofit in order to create a space where they can perform in-person safely once the pandemic has passed.

“I want us to have a physical space where we can do our shows and do the shows from original content to really showcase what's in our community, not just in a particular city but everywhere, and doing it online,” said Ballesteros. “I feel like this whole pandemic, COVID-19, Black Lives Matter, is a cultural reset. This is our renaissance.”

The Online Theatre Festival's second season will premiere in October of 2020 and will feature original productions written by SUU students and alumni. Anyone interested in performing with the Online Theatre Festival is encouraged to submit a resume to the company.

Learn more about SUU’s Department of Theatre, Dance and Arts Administration.

Tags: Alumni Theatre Arts and Dance

Contact Information:

Contact the Office of Marketing Communication