Theater an Outlet for Students

Maria Felt.

Down a long, innocuous hallway a coterie of individuals gathers to rub colored powders on their faces, don ware from another era, and transform into different people for the evening.

“You can be somebody else,” Roy Womack says while seated in a room below the theater where a group of actors puts on makeup and costumes. “It’s fun to express yourself.”

These actors – a mixture of current and recently graduated students – were part of the RCTC Theatre production of “Figaro” which ran during the end of April and beginning of May.

Maria Felt and Emilie Pentico have been in at least four RCTC productions, including “Figaro.” Both took theater classes and have a background with community theater or singing at church functions.

“In my case, this is my first time back at RCTC in like three-and-a-half years, so I was super excited to get into a show. I’m graduating and going out with a bang,” Pentico says.

“Jerry’s [RCTC Theatre instructor and play director Jerry Casper] a great theater teacher,” Felt says. “If you’re uncomfortable Jerry really helps you get out of your shell.”

“It’s another extracurricular and way to get to know people,” Pentico interjects.

“It’s nice to be with other college students, because they feel your pain. ‘Oh, I have an exam at 8 a.m., what am I doing here,’” Felt says with a laugh.

Like sports or other activities on campus, theater is a huge commitment.

“You can’t procrastinate when you have rehearsal five days a week; there’s no way you can put it off,” Pentico says.

Felt says she gets more exhausted in theater than sports. You have to think about movements, lights, cues – all sorts of events on stage to make sure the play comes together.

And stage paint is the worst, according to the actors. Your face will break out. But you have to overexaggerate the makeup for it to be visible and work on stage in such bright light. Applying makeup for a performance can take about an hour.

For Womack, it’s tough work but fun.

“It’s sometimes to deal with time management but I’ve gotten better at it,” he says.

Womack had no theater experience before he performed in college plays. One day, RCTC assistant basketball coach Jason Bonde told him he might want to try acting because of how expressive he was.

“I was like, ‘acting? I’m not acting!’ I tried it out and I fell in love with it.”

More than anything, he says the group of people are wonderful and want you to flourish.

And after talking with Casper, you find out that success in theater can mean success in life.

“What’s great is watching them succeed,” Casper says of the students. “I love seeing the lightbulbs come on and whether they stay in theater or not, I don’t care. What I care about is they become better communicators, they become lovers of humanity and life, and want to give back. I believe theater teaches us to be more humane and to give back.”

Casper has been with RCTC since 2001 (and even had a stint as an adjunct here in the ‘90s) and has written some of the plays performed on campus.

He gets to see firsthand how theater and the arts can transform a student at RCTC.

“It’s that idea that you’re holding a mirror up to humanity and figuring out who we are, and it’s through positives and negatives,” Casper says. “That’s one thing that plays do. Every play – at least for me, every play I’ve been in, every play I’ve directed – I’ve learned something about the human condition. In learning that I’ve learned something about myself, which helps us gain confidence in life.”

If you’re a fan of the arts, you don’t need to be an actor.

Technical director Ben Hain has been at RCTC since 2006 but actually worked on some plays back in 1986. Hain started doing theater in 4-H one-act plays and then taking classes in high school and kept with it. He found that he enjoyed the behind-the-scenes stuff: sound, building sets – and his passion – lighting.

“When you’re around you just end up doing everything,” Hain says of his trades.

According to Hain, RCTC Hill Theatre is one of the best equipped in southeast Minnesota. It has a huge stage and most likely the biggest scene shop behind it.

Some theater students don’t always crave the acting gig. Like Hain, some want to learn about sound or lighting. One former student went to college for sound after RCTC, and actually runs his own business doing lighting [we wrote about him in issue two] for bands like AC/DC.

“He’s traveling the world with major rock bands,” Hain says. “I tell students coming through here, you can get a job doing technical theater. Maybe not in Rochester, but there’s a lot of demand even up in the Twin Cities.”

No matter what you want to do with theater, Womack says that if you have any interest in it at all, you should go for it.

“Come to theater; it’s a fun thing to do. You get better at it every day. Just try it.”

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