College of Fine Arts News Archive

June 2020

  • SFA’s ‘The Tempest’ showing online this week

    SFA’s ‘The Tempest’ showing online this week

    June 29, 2020—Robbie Goodrich

    The Stephen F. Austin State University School of Theatre will present William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” live online for three consecutive nights starting June 30 and in a recorded version the following three days, July 3 through 5.

    Selected for the School of Theatre’s virtual SummerStage Festival, “The Tempest” is a story of isolation and loss, but it is also about the power of life to continue and of humanity to recover. The script blends tragedy, comedy, songs and magic.

    Nightly live performances are at 7:30. To purchase online access, visit http://boxoffice.sfasu.edu or call (936) 468-6407 for online purchasing questions.

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  • SFA’s Piano in the Pines Camp shifts to online

    SFA’s Piano in the Pines Camp shifts to online

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    SFA music professor Mario Ajero instructs student Gezle Uson in an online Zoom session. SFA is offering Piano in the Pines online camp July 20 through 24. Students may register through July 3 at http://sfasu.edu/pianocamp

    June 29, 2020—Robbie Goodrich

    With so many youth camps being canceled this summer, the Stephen F. Austin State University School of Music has a camp that offers online piano instruction that can be enjoyed from the safety of one’s own home.

    Registration for the Piano in the Pines virtual camp has been extended to Friday, July 3, for the week-long camp, July 20 through 24, for junior high and high school pianists. Camp director Mario Ajero, professor of piano pedagogy at SFA, used the success of the SFA Music Preparatory Division’s virtual spring recitals for inspiration to take the traditional piano camp online.

    “When COVID-19 prevented our Music Prep students from having their traditional end-of-the-semester recitals in our recital halls, I came up with the idea of putting together a virtual recital where we would collect pre-recorded performance videos from the students’ homes,” Ajero said. “We would then broadcast those videos on a Facebook Live event so that family members and friends even outside of East Texas could celebrate the students’ accomplishments. The success of these SFA Music Prep virtual recitals inspired me to shift the Piano in the Pines Camp to an online format that would include private lessons and classes with SFA piano faculty and culminate in a virtual recital.”

    To present the camp online, ensuring faculty had the necessary computers, mobile devices, cameras and microphones to deliver positive music-learning experiences in an online format was paramount.

    “Fortunately, internet speed is very reliable and fast on campus, and I feel confident that we won’t have to worry about losing connections on our end,” he said. “The biggest challenge is to make sure that the students who register have the technology and internet speeds to reliably connect with us.”

    Access to a computer or mobile device with a decent microphone and camera is a requirement for students. Video conferencing programs like Zoom have given musicians the ability to adjust the audio settings to remove various filters and compression that optimize the online calls for speech. With these new settings, musical performances can be broadcast remotely over the Zoom calls in a way that is faithful to the original sound, Ajero said.

    Students will receive daily private online lessons with faculty, participate in virtual duets and ensembles with other student pianists, attend online classes covering a variety of relevant topics for young pianists, and perform in the SFA Piano in the Pines Virtual Recital at the end of the week.

    “The good news is that many students and their families had to adapt to online instruction during the spring,” he said. “So we feel families are more prepared for this than they ever were. We also intend on sharing some information and short tutorial videos on how to achieve the best home environment for the online music instruction that they will partake in.”

    Long before COVID-19 halted in-person instruction for public schools and universities, Ajero had invested a number of years of research in remote piano teaching to the point “we’re confident that we can still offer positive music-making experiences online,” he said.

    Ajero recently gave a presentation for The Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University entitled “Technology to Teach Keyboard Remotely.” He said he was surprised that close to 500 teachers and administrators from across the country registered for the webinar.

    “I wish these circumstances did not force us to teach and learn in this fashion,” he said, “but it is comforting to know that we can with technology that is readily available to most people.”

    Although most students prefer a traditional face-to-face camp experience that immerses them in the university environment, the response to the online camp has been good, Ajero said.

    “As someone who values music education as such an integral part of a young person’s development, I feel that online piano instruction is absolutely better than no music-making experiences at all,” he said. “We aim the camp at junior high and high school piano students usually at the intermediate and advanced levels. If there are any beginner piano students interested in online lessons, they should contact the SFA Music Prep program for their summer offerings.”

    Register for Piano in the Pines camp through July 3 at http://sfasu.edu/pianocamp. Ajero can be reached at ajeromp@sfasu.edu.

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  • SFA theatre alumna lands TV host job with Space Center Houston

    SFA theatre alumna lands TV host job with Space Center Houston

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    SFA School of Theatre alumna Mai Le is the host of Space Center Houston’s Explorer Camp TV, a new weekly show dedicated to science and space exploration learning.

    June 25, 2020—Robbie Goodrich

    Stephen F. Austin State University alumna Mai Le is the host of Space Center Houston’s Explorer Camp TV, a new weekly show that gives audiences an up-close look at the exciting world of human space exploration.

    A 2013 graduate in the School of Theatre, Le lives in the Houston area and works as a freelance actor in film, commercials, theatre and voiceover. As host for Explorer Camp TV, Le introduces guests and new segments and occasionally facilitates interviews with educational specialists at Space Center Houston.

    She landed the hosting job in the middle of a pandemic as a result of what she described as a “right time, right fit” situation.

    “I was already booked for a Space Center Houston commercial that was going to advertise their reopening at the beginning of July,” she said. “Somewhere within that production process, a TV series was pitched and approved. Once they got the ball rolling for it, they contacted my agent to bring me on to Explorer Camp TV.”

    The show is dedicated to science and space exploration learning and airs at 11 a.m. Wednesdays on My20 KTXH. Viewers explore rocket science, astronaut food, robotics and more, and they learn what it takes to get into space. They hear from real scientists and engineers, complete hands-on STEM activities, and get news about NASA missions.

    Managing an acting career and keeping the momentum going for a lifestyle based on the entertainment industry during a pandemic has been quite the challenge for Le.

    “At the beginning of this year, I had a dozen doors I was trying to open at once, with a contingency plan for everything,” she said. “Now, it's hard to predict what any of my next steps might be when the industry is changing and adapting around COVID.

    “After quarantine began back in March, I've steadily watched my bookings go on hiatus, get canceled or get reprogrammed for a date on which I can't guarantee my availability,” she added. “At the same time, I'm extremely lucky to book gig work, and so much is ‘COVID-centric,’ with a commercial here about social distancing; an info-video there on a loan for COVID victims; a play-reading about paying rent during quarantine, etc. I never would have predicted to be doing what I'm doing four months ago, and I can't imagine what it'll be like four months from now.”

    Le credits her recent success in the bookings arena to her agents at Pastorini-Bosby Talent.

    “I do a lot of work on my own, but I'm definitely not a one-woman show,” she said. “Any success I've received has come from my personal hard work but also from the support of people who trust me and build me up.”

    View some of Le’s Space Center Houston commercial work at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CVGoMp-AkRU, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qGNxx2xSIng&feature=youtu.be&t=15 and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vsghRqUJwBY.

    article ID 1903

  • SFA fine arts podcast shares online instructional ideas

    SFA fine arts podcast shares online instructional ideas

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    “The Creative Challenge” podcast offers suggestions for teaching fine arts topics online from art, music and theatre instructors at Stephen F. Austin State University.

    June 23, 2020—Robbie Goodrich

    Like all universities and public and private school systems across the globe, Stephen F. Austin State University found itself in mid-March suddenly shifting from delivering all in-person classroom instruction to online.

    Some courses adapt to remote instruction easier than others. Scott Shattuck, associate dean of the SFA College of Fine Arts, was especially curious to learn how faculty members in the schools of art, music and theatre would teach performance skills and studio art technique courses through remote delivery.

    “I heard a couple of especially interesting accounts from students and colleagues who had unexpectedly found themselves in this experimental mode,” Shattuck said, “and it made me think: ‘I’ll bet others would be just as fascinated as I am to learn about the creativity our faculty employed to meet these challenges.”’

    Shattuck, along with media specialist Michael Tubbs, initiated a series of videos, “The Creative Challenge,” that features fine arts instructors who have developed some unique virtual teaching strategies to try and ensure that students continue to learn and pursue their work as artists. These can be viewed at finearts.sfasu.edu/creative.

    In addition to making these creative teaching ideas available for other educators to incorporate in their virtual classrooms, Shattuck hopes the podcast shows students, prospective students and their families “just how brilliant our College of Fine Arts teachers really are,” he said.

    “And, if members of our alumni who are now teaching art, music or theatre, or other faculty members around the country, can take advantage of some of the wonderful ideas described in the podcast interviews, that’s an additional benefit to emerging artists everywhere,” he added. “I hope these interviews make it vividly clear that there’s no stopping creativity. Teaching, learning, and creating art were practically uninterrupted when the pandemic turned our world upside down.”

    On social media platforms, the College of Fine Arts has been using the hashtag #ArtsKeepUsGoing, “because everyone has been sustained over the past few months by the songs, movies, books and other creative expressions that keep us connected in such important ways even when we’re physically distanced from one another,” Shattuck said. “We’ve also asserted that #ArtsWillLeadUsBack, because it’s creativity that will fuel the research, the economic revival and the community spirit we’ll need to restore the health and vitality of our society.”

    As an educator, Shattuck said he is both humbled and inspired by the resourcefulness and resilience that he’s been fortunate to witness in SFA fine arts faculty.

    “The only course I was teaching in the spring was already online and, honestly, I don’t know what I’d have done to keep the teaching, learning and creating going if I’d been teaching a face-to-face technique class,” he said. “These colleagues have given me ideas but, more importantly, they’ve given me hope.”

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  • Online access to ‘The Tempest' purchased through Fine Arts Box Office

    Online access to ‘The Tempest' purchased through Fine Arts Box Office

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    SFA theatre students rehearse on Zoom for the upcoming virtual presentation of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” The show can be accessed live online for three consecutive nights starting June 30 and in a recorded version the following three days, July 3 through 5. Online access can be purchased through the College of Fine Arts Box Office.

    June 18, 2020—Robbie Goodrich

    “The Tempest” rehearsals started a few weeks ago with Stephen F. Austin State University theatre students doing all the traditional elements of theatrical rehearsal, like script analysis and blocking, while also discovering the opportunities and limitations of creating and presenting a play totally online as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” will be presented live online for three consecutive nights starting June 30 and in a recorded version the following three days, July 3 through 5. Online access can be purchased through the College of Fine Arts Box Office.

    Selected for the School of Theatre’s SummerStage Festival, “The Tempest” is a story of isolation and loss, but it is also about the power of life to continue and of humanity to recover, according to Slade Billew, assistant professor of theatre and director of the play. The script blends tragedy, comedy, songs and magic.

    The play will be “created” entirely over the internet, with rehearsals conducted via Zoom, and designers conceiving and creating work in their own personal spaces. The same theatrical instruction that was taking place in the classroom six month ago is now being delivered virtually.

    “There will be all of the elements of a traditional production, just in a different medium,” said Billew. “We have students and faculty working with all of the areas of design. We are figuring things out within our limitations. For example, we can't mail students theatrical lighting instruments, but we are coming up with ways to create unique lighting and sound effects in the spaces of the performers' homes.”

    Students will use a range of other tools, including some puppetry and a mix of built and found objects and costumes.

    “We are looking for ways that students can be mailed costume or prop pieces,” Billew said, “or be sent files to print and assemble themselves. We want this to be as fully realized a production as possible.”

    Billew anticipates encountering a range of technological glitches. “We also lose the creative energy of all being in a room together – something I know the country as a whole is struggling with right now,” he said. “Also, we are adapting to a whole new form of performance where the modes of creation and communication are different.”

    In normal SFA production circumstances, theatre students work with a high level of theatrical design and technological support. While this is great for their education, it’s not what many of them will encounter in their early professional careers, Billew said, adding this new process will help them learn to create the best work they can with limited resources.

    “Many early career theatre and film artists are now getting their start on YouTube and other platforms where they generate their own work,” he said. “This project will give our students a leg up in learning how to do that.”

    Despite the need for actors to perform in front of live audiences, School of Theatre Director Cleo House Jr. predicts that theatre will be forever changed because of the pandemic, and SFA’s response to what’s happening “really is what theatre has always been about,” he said.

    “Theatre remains in a consistent state change … of action and reaction … meaning the world happens around us, and theatre responds,” House said. “It reacts by holding up a mirror. Theatre has to be this way because it is a living yet ephemeral entity. Living things change; they adapt, they move, or they die. Our actions in moving forward with the support of the College of Fine Arts speaks to SFA’s continued value for the impact of what we do in theatre, and our audience support is appreciated and needed.”

    Once donations/purchases are made for live performance, the School of Theatre will contact the purchaser by email three hours before the live performances to provide a link for access. Live performances are at 7:30 p.m. June 30, July 1 and July 2. The recorded performance will be available July 3 though 5. Passcodes for July 3 through 5 will be ongoing and released daily at noon. The link dies at midnight each night with a new link for each day. Access for each day should be purchased separately. Access levels range from $5 to $25.

    To purchase online access, visit boxoffice.sfasu.edu or call (936) 468-6407 for online purchasing questions. For more information about the School of Theatre, visit theatre.sfasu.edu.

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  • Cole Art Center to reopen: Orton traveling photo exhibition of Upshaw family to ‘retire’ in permanent venue

    Cole Art Center to reopen: Orton traveling photo exhibition of Upshaw family to ‘retire’ in permanent venue

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    A traveling exhibition of local photographer Richard Orton’s images of the Upshaw family of Nacogdoches County will be on display July 7 through Aug. 15 at The Cole Art Center @ The Old Opera House in downtown Nacogdoches.

    June 18, 2020—Robbie Goodrich

    The Cole Art Center @ The Old Opera House, Stephen F. Austin State University’s historic downtown gallery, will reopen to the public Tuesday, July 7, with a traveling exhibition of local photographer Richard Orton’s images of the Upshaw family of Nacogdoches County on display.

    The photographs, which have been featured in an exhibition that’s been traveling across Texas for the past three years, are the focus of Orton’s book, “The Upshaws of County Line: An American Family,” which is a documentation of the County Line community’s history through photographs and oral histories of the families who lived there. Orton became acquainted with the Upshaw family, which had lived for decades in the northwest Nacogdoches County community of County Line, in the late 1980s and began taking photographs for this project, which evolved into a book that was published by the University of North Texas Press in 2014 after 25 years of preparation.

    John Handley, director of art galleries at SFA, and Chris Talbot, director of the SFA School of Art, began discussing the possibility of turning Orton's photo project into a traveling exhibition in 2016. After a number of art venues, including universities, expressed interest, the show was printed, framed and prepared for touring. It has been seen in venues at Southwestern University, the Institute of Texan Cultures, Angelina College, Denton UNT Gallery on the Square and the Museum of Big Bend at Sul Ross State University, among others. It last closed in Midland at Midland College at the end of February this year.

    Following its display in Cole Art Center next month, the exhibition will become permanently located in a city facility, according to Orton.

    “Our plan is to give the exhibit to the City of Nacogdoches as part of its soon-to-be-created collection at the restored Zion Hill Baptist Church,” Orton said. “The city has assured us that the exhibit will continue to be made available to other venues, and that a marketing plan will be made toward that end.”

    Three brothers, Guss, Felix and Jim Upshaw, and their families established County Line in the 1870s. What stimulated Orton's curiosity about County Line was how quickly emancipated slaves were able to own their own land, and, as a result, had the opportunity to live relatively autonomous, self-sufficient lives while raising their families in the time of Jim Crow.

    "That is why I wanted to make photographs there and collect their oral history," Orton explained. "I was most fortunate to be allowed to do that.

    “Though my early visits to County Line were motivated primarily by curiosity and surprise that such places existed (nothing about them in history class), I was drawn in by the warmth of the people who lived there, beginning with Edward Monel and Leota Freeman Upshaw,” he said. “After 25 years, I felt obligated to do something to express my gratitude. That’s when the book started taking shape, and then John Handley made the exhibit possible.

    “The Upshaw family has changed my life for the better, and this exhibit is my attempt to say, ‘Thank you,’” he added.

    Seven of the nine venues in which the show was exhibited had an opening event that Orton attended. An Upshaw family member attended three of those to talk about the photo project.

    “Something I noticed at several of these openings was the way that white people responded to it and the way black people responded,” Orton said. “White folks seemed taken by a history and reality that they did not know about before, and the black folks would say something like ‘that looks like my family.’”

    “The Upshaws of County Line: An American Family” is the winner of Ottis Locke Best Coffee Table Book Award from the East Texas Historical Association. The more than 50 duotone photographs and text convey the contemporary experience of growing up in a "freedom colony."

    “I must admit that I knew nothing of the history of freedom colonies in the United States prior to moving to Texas in 2012,” Handley said. “This is partly because there simply is not much information about the subject available, and also, I feel that having been born and raised on the West Coast, I had little opportunity to learn about them.”

    A few years after working as the director of the SFA art galleries, Handley recognized the opportunity to transform the Upshaws’ story into a traveling exhibition. The book format was expanded into an exhibition (framed photographs and text panels), marketing materials were developed, and the exhibition was made available to a wide range of institutions at a very low cost.

    “After nine venues, Richard and I agreed that it was time to ‘retire’ the exhibition, but only in a meaningful way – as a gift to an appropriate institution,” Handley said. “Eventually, working with Jessica Sowell with the historic sites here in Nacogdoches, we agreed to transfer the exhibition to the city where it can be further utilized.”

    With the advent of CODID-19, SFA art galleries were closed to the public, and summer exhibitions were canceled. However, Cole Art Center will reopen to the public on July 7.

    “Considering the rise in awareness about racism and the political climate in the United States, and after talking with both Richard Orton and Chris Talbot, we felt it only appropriate to offer the full exhibition at the Cole Art Center before transferring it to the city,” Handley said. “We here at the School of Art are very proud of this exhibition and its successful tour. I hope locals take the opportunity to come down and see this show.”

    In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cole Art Center patrons will be required to wear a mask, practice social distancing, comply with designated entrance and exit routes and follow all other CDC guidelines, including maximum capacity restrictions. Larger groups can be accommodated by appointment. There will be no reception. The exhibition will show through Aug. 15.

    For information, call the art center at (936) 468-6557.

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  • Registration underway for Junior Jacks Virtual Experience

    Registration underway for Junior Jacks Virtual Experience

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    The popular Junior Jacks theatre camp at SFA has transitioned online and transformed into the Junior Jacks Virtual Experience.

    June 16, 2020—Robbie Goodrich

    Registration is ongoing for the Junior Jacks Virtual Experience at Stephen F. Austin State University. The popular two-week School of Theatre camp is designed for children entering third through ninth grades. This year’s online camp is scheduled for Monday through Friday, July 27 through Aug. 7.

    Junior Jacks was designed as a day-camp version of the highly successful High School Summer Theatre Workshop at SFA, according to Carolyn Conn, associate professor of theatre at SFA and the camp’s director. The fun and exciting summer theatre camp, offered in two age groups, is filling quickly, even in its virtual format, and Conn suggested parents register their children early.

    Instead of cancelling Junior Jacks this year because of COVID concerns, Conn decided to put the popular summer camp online at the request of parents.

    “I decided to go forward because I was encouraged by parents to do so,” she said. “They told me that kids would need these kinds of outlets more than ever if they were still inside (quarantined) in July. I want children to have something active and creative to do while remaining in their safe environments.”

    All meetings will be hosted on Zoom, and final performances of the students will be recorded and aired on the School of Theatre YouTube channel.

    “There will be full group workshops and breakout sessions for small group shows,” Conn said.

    Junior Jacks is a community outreach opportunity designed to not only introduce children to theatre, but it also allows the School of Theatre’s teacher certification students to work with students who are younger than high school age. Junior Jacks campers traditionally play theatre games and rehearse plays that will be performed at the camp’s conclusion. This year, it will all be online, with theatre teacher certification students getting valuable online teaching experience, Conn said.

    Meeting times are 10 a.m. to noon for third through sixth grades and 1 to 3:30 p.m. for seventh through ninth grades. Performances will be recorded on the final day and aired one time only on Aug. 8 on the School of Theatre YouTube channel.

    Registration cost is $60 per student and $40 for each additional sibling within a single family. Needs-based scholarships may be available. More information and a registration form can be found at http://www.theatre.sfasu.edu, or contact Conn at conncs@sfasu.edu.

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  • Madrid taking SFA Music Prep program in new direction

    Madrid taking SFA Music Prep program in new direction

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    Alba Madrid is the new director of the Music Preparatory Division of the Stephen F. Austin State University School of Music.

    June 5, 2020—Robbie Goodrich

    A new director of the Music Preparatory Division of the Stephen F. Austin State University School of Music is taking the music outreach program in a new and exciting direction.

    Alba Madrid, an adjunct faculty member in the SFA School of Music, began training recently as the new director and took over as head of the program on June 1.

    “I am excited to embark on a new journey in my professional career as the director of an institution that has the potential to grow and become an integral part of the community,” Madrid said.

    A new strategy is in place to “heavily recruit” for the many programs offered in Music Prep, such as the Suzuki violin program, guitar lessons, youth orchestra and others, including the well-established piano program for youth and adults, Madrid said.

    “We would like to see more collaboration between the university and Music Preparatory Division by giving SFA students an opportunity to receive valuable field experience in music education,” she said. “We are also working very hard to expand our scholarship funds to help families that have been negatively impacted by the pandemic. The scholarship funds will be expanded through grants, donations and sponsorships.”

    Despite the one-on-one teaching restrictions brought on by COVID-19, Music Prep faculty members are teaching summer lessons remotely, meeting with students weekly via Zoom, Facetime and Skype, as well as through recorded instructional videos for students to use during their daily practice at home, Madrid explained. Students also have the option to receive an in-person lesson if both the teacher and the student agree to it, and if they all follow social-distancing guidelines, wear masks and keep their hands sanitized.

    “We recently had our first live virtual recitals where we featured our Music Preparatory students and the Piney Woods Youth Orchestra,” she said. “It was a huge success, and we hope to do another virtual recital in August.”

    Madrid brings a wealth of music education experience to the community outreach program, according to Dr. Gary Wurtz, director of the School of Music.

    “Upon learning that we would need to find a new director of the Music Preparatory Division, I hoped that we could find someone here in our community with the right expertise, experience and vision to take the program to greater levels of success,” Wurtz said. “We were blessed to have Ms. Madrid, with her years of public school teaching and professional performing experience, available and willing to take on the role. This is a good time for Music Prep.”

    At SFA, Madrid teaches violin and viola applied lessons, a course of string methods and secondary music education and has coached chamber music ensembles. For the past year, she has been the Piney Woods Youth Orchestra director and was a Music Prep faculty member.

    Before moving to Nacogdoches, she held the position of head orchestra director at Nikki Rowe High School in McAllen and assistant orchestra director at Economedes High School in Edinburg. She also taught in the Gulfport School District and Houston Independent School District both as a music teacher and orchestra director.

    An active performer, Madrid is a member of the Shreveport Symphony Orchestra and Texarkana Symphony Orchestra, and she is principal second violin with the Longview Symphony Orchestra. Prior to moving to Nacogdoches, she performed with Sinfonia da Camera, Peoria Symphony Orchestra, Heartland Festival Orchestra, Mobile Symphony Orchestra, Pensacola Symphony Orchestra and the Valley Symphony Orchestra, where she held the position of principal second violin and performed in the orchestra’s chamber music series.

    Summer registration for Music Prep flex lessons is still underway, and online registration can be accessed at music.sfasu.edu/outreach.

    A new fall initiative includes establishing a pilot strings project in which students from all Nacogdoches County public school districts and some from surrounding areas will participate.

    “A grant is being written now to help support this effort,” Madrid said. “Students will have the opportunity to learn to play a string instrument in a group setting guided by a master teacher along with three SFA music students. Currently, students in the public school system only have the option to participate in choir or band. We hope this new strings project will help increase the interest and participation of string education in the local schools.

    “I am hopeful about the future of Music Prep, and I will work very hard to create opportunities to reach as many students as possible and to have more community exposure,” Madrid said.

    Music Prep summer office hours are from 1 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Madrid can also be reached via email at madrida@sfasu.edu or musicprep@sfasu.edu or by phone at (936) 468-1291. Parents can also find program information on Facebook and Instagram.

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  • SFA School of Theatre to present Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ online

    SFA School of Theatre to present Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ online

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    The SFA School of Theatre will present William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” virtually in a live stream June 30 through July 2 and in a recorded version July 3 through 5. Access purchase is required for viewing: https://purchase.tickets.com/buy/TicketPurchase?organ_val=21487&schedule=list

    June 5, 2020—Robbie Goodrich

    In a world where COVID-19 continuously throws obstacles in the way of plans and progress, the School of Theatre at Stephen F. Austin State University is moving forward in presenting its annual SummerStage Festival in a new and innovative way.

    The play choice has been changed from the original lineup, and its delivery has been adapted as an online version. But as always in live theater, the show must, and will, go on in live, online performances at 7:30 p.m. June 30 through July 2 and in a recorded version the following three days. Online access can be purchased through the College of Fine Arts Box Office.

    Changes in work structures this past spring brought on by the coronavirus pandemic made it difficult to get in touch with publishing houses in order to obtain rights, or permission, to perform copyrighted plays. As a result, the School of Theatre decided to present a show in the Public Domain, and SFA Assistant Professor of Theatre Slade Billew decided on William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” which he described as “one of my favorite plays.”

    “It also seems timely,” said Billew, who is the play’s director. “‘The Tempest’ is a story of isolation and loss, but it is also about the power of life to continue and of humanity to recover. In the beautiful way that Shakespeare does, the script blends tragedy, comedy, songs and magic.”

    Although “The Tempest” is a full-length play, Billew has cut it to approximately 90 minutes. The play will be “created” entirely over the internet, with rehearsals conducted via Zoom, and designers conceiving and creating work in their own personal spaces.

    Billew and his colleagues are exploring existing and new platforms of delivery – specifically ones that will allow individual access through a donation to the School of Theatre as a means of recuperating much-needed funding that was lost by the cancellation of live in-person SummerStage performances.

    “We are, of course, all still figuring this out, so there are a few possibilities,” Billew said. “We are going to perform the piece live online three times. Then, a recording that people can ‘rent’ will be available. It will likely be accessed through YouTube. Right now we are working with Zoom, but I have also been in conversations with LaMaMa/Culture Hub in New York who have developed a software called Live Lab specifically for this kind of work. They are planning to release Live Lab for beta testing in early June, so we are going to test it out.”

    Theatre faculty is working with the Fine Arts Box Office to give audiences online access to the show through a donation. Once donations/purchases are made, the School of Theatre will contact the purchaser by email three hours before the 7:30 p.m. performance time to provide link access.

    SFA discovered in presenting its Festival of New American Plays in a free format this past April that audiences wanted a mechanism by which to donate to the School of Theatre in support of performance art.

    “This really highlights the value our audiences place on the work of not only the students but also the faculty/staff who are integral to our success,” said Cleo House Jr., director of the School of Theatre. As a result, audience members will have an opportunity to contribute at different levels. The minimum level is $5 with the maximum level being $25.

    “Regardless of the level, you’ll get access to the performance on a selected night,” House explained. “We will have three nights of live performance, and, in an effort to be flexible, the remaining nights will be a recorded version of one of the previous live nights. We are so happy that audiences still want to make a financial impact during this time. Our income has been affected by the pandemic, like so many others. Our theatre productions are funded almost 100% by ticket revenue. Donations of any kind are always appreciated.”

    Another lesson learned from the play festival was that there is an audience for these types of online performances, House said. “Audiences still want to support the School of Theatre and see our talented students perform live,” he said. “A performance likes this breaks up the monotony of watching the various streaming services that are so popular now. We actually were able to host larger audiences with our play festival than in the past, thanks to not having the limitations of brick and mortar.”

    There is a long tradition in the theatre of “the show must go on.” During Shakespeare's life when the London theatres were shut down due to plague, the companies adapted by touring the countryside.

    “In this time when many aspects of American life are shut down, we are learning how to keep the show going in the face of whatever the world throws at us,” Billew said. “We are deeply committed to making this a unique piece of online performance.”

    The online performance of “The Tempest” speaks not only to the adaptability of theatre but to the commitment that the School of Theatre has to its students and the community, House said. “It speaks to our students’ desire to embrace technology and to their strong commitment to the mantra ‘the show must go on.’”

    Live streaming performances are at 7:30 p.m. June 30, July 1 and July 2. Sales end at 1 p.m. for that day’s performance; links will be emailed after 4:30 p.m. The recorded performance will be available July 3 though 5 with daily access purchase required. To purchase online access, visit boxoffice.sfasu.edu or call (936) 468-6407 for online purchasing questions. For more information about the School of Theatre, visit theatre.sfasu.edu.

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