The SVSU theatre department has brought quality live entertainment to students and the community for most of the university’s existence. Live theatre offers students an experience in a field that is renowned for its tolerance, openness to self-expression, its ability to create a familial structure that is inherent when producing such projects as a live, bombastic spectacle and, above all, how to have a good time doing something one loves.
Those are some of the core values that Associate Professor of Theatre Dave Rzeszutek, who directs a handful of shows for the theatre department every year, attempts to instill in the minds of many theatre students.
“It can be stressful at times,” Rzeszutek says. “Depending on how the project is going or the actor’s line load or how big of a build (the set) is, but overall, we set it up to be fun. I do my very best to have fun in my rehearsals.”
However, with such an intensive, complex and delicate process, most of the time, in the beginning months before curtains are ever drawn, the amount of fun to be had often finds itself equating to the amount of work and effort that is needed from both the faculty and students when putting on a show.
“The most challenging part of the theatre department is the workload,” theatre alumni Jonah Conner says. “The department will push you out of the nest in order to learn to fly.”
Rzeszutek estimates that the majority of individuals working on an upcoming performance will rack up over 100 hours of time working toward a single production, and that’s just the face-to-face time with other actors and collaborators.
“That doesn’t even account for any time the actors would be studying or working on lines. It doesn’t account for the hours that someone is working in the shop,” Rzeszutek says. “That (100 hours) is just sort of in rehearsal and casting.”
According to Rzeszutek, for rehearsals alone, those involved in developing a performance work an average of roughly 15 to 20 hours a week.
“It’s pretty much like working a part-time job,” says Josh Lloyd, a theatre and communications senior. “It can be difficult at times, especially balancing with work and school and other activities, but doing it as long as I’ve been doing it, you get used to it and you make time for things.”
Conner, who graduated in 2017, felt that the heavy workload is beneficial for students.
The reason students are so busy so often is because the smaller size of SVSU allows the department to provide opportunities for students to partake in performances whether it be on stage or behind the scenes.
“I have roughly 16 collegiate show credits,” Conner said. “I know other friends from other universities who only have five, and that is incredible.”
This inclusive attitude draws students to SVSU,where they can participate in a large-scale production from their freshman year all the way up until they graduate.
“With a lot of other universities, you have to put your time in and, eventually, when you become a senior, you’ll get a bigger role or be featured more,” Lloyd says. “But at Saginaw Valley, I came in my freshman year, and I got straight into a show along with other people.”
Not only does this open platform allow students to get time performing, but it also allows them to pick up some of the behind-the-scenes trades that are equally important for anyone looking to further his or her career in theatre. Whether it be through lighting, makeup, sound or helping out longtime lead set designer Jerry Dennis with props and set-pieces, there is always something to do.
“You can choose to learn about as many subjects in theatre or narrow your field of vision,” Conner says. “You can get as much education as you seek by speaking to professors on a week-to-week basis. They are always there to help you.”
The technical side is just one side of the coin of live theatre, and it’s one that not only serves a crucial purpose but also develops a strong relationship between the director, the actors and the crew.
“I love the technical elements because it’s what makes the show complete,” Rzeszutek said. “But, for me, it’s the most stressful time, because that’s me giving over control, and I like to be a little of a control freak, because I know what I can do. But when you get to tech, that’s when you really have to trust your collaborators.”
Much of the recent success of the department can be attributed to the leadership and the balance of style between Rzeszutek and Department Chair Ric Roberts. Rzeszutek is known for working personally with the actors and actresses in an attempt to fully unite the student with the character and bring out a genuine depiction of feelings and emotions. Roberts thrives when dealing with bigger picture pieces, such as elaborate musicals or nuanced comedies. Where Rzeszutek is open and free with his crew, Roberts is more strict and methodical. When put together, the two directors bring out the best in those willing to dedicate themselves to the stage and the audience’s reaction mirrors this.
“If you like being given a skeleton to flesh out, you’re a Ric show kind of person,” Conner said. “But if you like figuring it all out on your own, you’re a Dave show type of person.”
Due to the smaller size of the university, theatre students end up spending a lot of time together even outside of shows. Whether it’s during rehearsal, in classes or in one of the many RSOs that theatre majors flock to such as the campus improv group Work ‘N Progress or Cardinal Night Live, this amount of socialization is what allows the actors to feel more organic and creates an environment around the production that feels as if everyone is in it together to accomplish something great.
“I guess we hang out a lot and see each other a lot, so when we get to do a show together, it’s like the chemistry is already there and we just have a good time,” Lloyd said.