In a recent off-campus project, LMU Theatre Arts alumni, students, and faculty participated in the Long Beach Shakespeare Company’s production of The Winter’s Tale, one of Shakespeare’s later romantic comedies. The collaborative effort involved both LMU undergraduate students, faculty, as well as professional actors for the play’s four-week run this past summer.
The impetus for the collaboration started with Holly Leveque ‘11, MFA ‘14, an LMU alumni who double-majored in theatre arts and communication studies. She went on to receive her MFA in screenwriting at LMU School of Film and Television, and is the current artistic director at the Long Beach Shakespeare Company. Leveque’s connections to LMU run very deep, with multiple family members who attended and worked at the university, so she knew she wanted to remain involved in campus life even after her time as a student ended.
“When I stepped into the role as artistic director at LBSC, it became clear that I should come back to LMU, and it was a dream to get a chance to work with a great group who really put so much work into this show,” Leveque said. “To collaborate and share opportunities with my former teachers, coaches, friends, fellow alumni, and current students has always been a goal. What is the use of having a theater if you have no one to share it with?”
Leveque maintained ties to the department since her graduation, and when she selected the season of plays this year, tapped recent MFA in Performance Pedagogy graduate Lauren Johansen Sheppard ’08, MFA ‘22, to direct The Winter’s Tale, as well as Jason Sheppard, technical director for LMU Theatre Arts and Dance, who was brought on to manage the set design and sound. Professor Stacey Cabaj performed in the production in a starring role as Hermione.
“It was a dream to get a chance to work with a great group who really put so much work into this show,” Leveque said. “It was a beast of a project with understudies going on for every week of the show. But it’s a labor of love for every show and every live production.”
Johansen Sheppard received her B.A. and MFA from LMU and was thrilled to work with students from her alma mater. “I always enjoy working with LMU students because they are curious, dedicated, and fun to work with,” Johansen Sheppard said. “It’s a thrill to be able to see them put the training they have received at LMU to practical use in the real world, translating their skills into art which we get to share with the larger community. Watching them explore and grow as young artists is truly an honor.”
LMU students were involved in The Winter’s Tale both on the stage and behind the scenes. Featured cast members in the show included junior theatre arts major Avery Abell and senior theatre arts major Claire Voilleque. On the design side, junior theatre arts major Amelia Tacy was the stage manager, and several of Sheppard’s student volunteers assisted in painting the mural for the set, Rachael Deboer, Maureen Beld, MK Howard, and Audrey Szot.
Tacy, the stage manager, described her overall experience as challenging, yet fun, especially given that this was the first show she had stage-managed outside of LMU. “I enjoy stage managing as it allows me to be a part of each aspect of the show process and interact with all the actors, designers, and crew,” Tacy said. “A stage manager is usually one of the only people present for an entire show run, from doing initial director meetings to calling cues throughout each performance, and I love seeing the complete process play out.”
Tacy’s stage management class with Sheppard originally piqued her interest in the technical side of theatre, and she credits the class with showing her aspects of theatre that she hadn’t considered previously. This experience, coupled with a well-rounded curriculum in lighting, sound, and costume craft courses, contributed to deepening her knowledge of technical theatre and preparing her to seamlessly transition her skills in a professional setting.
According to Sheppard, partnering with the off-campus organization has proven to be a highly rewarding experience for everyone involved, particularly to give undergraduate students professionalizing experiences, which is an increasing focus of the department. “Being able to bring my current students out on professional gigs and seeing them successfully collaborate with other professionals in the field is meaningful and one of the reasons I love teaching. We always seek to discover and facilitate these experiences for our students within Los Angeles.”