Hamline News

Three student actors express emotion during a virtual theater production of "What We Saw. What We Said."

Students Gain Theatre Experience With Austene Van Residency

Each academic year the Hamline Department of Theatre & Dance hosts a different theatre professional for students to work with, known as a residency. COVID-19 made this difficult in 2020, but it happened nonetheless.

These programs allow students to be exposed to people outside of Hamline working in the theatre world, most of them around the Twin Cities.

This year the residency hosted actor, director, and choreographer Austene Van. Van is well-known for her work within the Penumbra Theatre, a historically Black theatre. During the 2019–2020 school year, Hamline hosted Tim Miller, a world-renowned performer whose performances and writings focus on his identity as a gay man.

Van and a group of students put on the show “2020: What We Saw. What We Said,” a show focusing on the hardships of 2020 due to the pandemic and racial injustice.

“[It was the] Hamline theatre department's way of saying, hey we really really want to make sure that people are learning from, not only us but learning from people from the community and the ability to have people like Tim Miller and Austene Van,” said Coby Aloi ’22, a history major.

Students became involved with Van in multiple ways, ranging from working behind the camera to acting in front of it. People could write, act, help with stage work or edit the final video product. All work happened via video to follow COVID-19 safety guidelines. Aloi was able to act, write, and help by being a light technician.

“That's the great thing about the show is that everybody did a lot,” Aloi said. “Everybody definitely pitched in to do different aspects of it and create a really wonderful piece.”

Aloi described it as a collaborative and eye-opening experience for everyone involved. For him, it was important because he got to see people of color working, and succeeding, in the field that he is passionate about.

“The big thing that I got out of it personally was that I got to see artists that look like me and who don't look like me, who are a lot darker than me and a lot lighter than me coming together to create,” Aloi said.

Aloi loves the residencies and similar programs that bring in people that work within theatre. Seeing their real-life work is an important experience for those interested in theatre. The skills learned within these programs are beneficial no matter the field, said Aloi.

“I think that I'm always going to be involved in entertainment in some way. What that way means, I don't know,” Aloi said. “The skills that I've learned in theatre will help me regardless if I go into theatre or an adjacent area of work.”

Written by Eliza Hagstrom
April 6, 2021