EPISODE 15: THE STORY OF

Perseverance through
the Arts

with C. Patrick Gendusa

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The magic and the love and the spirit of this community is that you can’t get us down ever, and we will rise above everything.

Jamie
From Broadway’s costumers selling masks and PPE to a theater in Wales, which has been transformed into a temporary hospital, theater people know that the show must go on. I’m Jamie Hipp, and this is Teaching Trailblazers, a show about teachers, artists and leaders in arts integration and STEAM. On today’s episode, we sit down with C. Patrick Gendusa, the chair and artistic director of the Department of Theater Arts and Dance at Loyola University in New Orleans. In addition to his work in Louisiana, Patrick has also performed and directed in New York, Texas, New Mexico and Virginia. Welcome, Patrick. We’re delighted to have you on the show.

Patrick
Thanks for having me. Good to see you.

Jamie
It’s good to see you. How many weeks have you been quarantined now, on the French Quarter of New Orleans?

Patrick
Four! Mid, uh mid-March… Loyola moved online and we went on lockdown and the  Quarter is completely dead. There is no one in the French Quarter. It’s really scary. It’s it’s made us realize how few permanent residents there are in the Quarter without the tourists and everyone else, there is no one around. The entire Quarter is closed and boarded up.

Jamie
I can’t even imagine… that sounds rough. On a brighter note, tell us a little about Loyola theater and dance.

Patrick
Sure, well, Loyola is a Jesuit institution, and we’re liberal arts program. We have three degrees: musical theater, theater and theater with the business administration minor. And we believe in educating the whole artist. So no matter what your focus is, you’re still gonna learn all aspects of theater, which makes you a more compassionate artist . It also makes ours that makes our graduates marketable, and they work as soon as I graduate because of that.

Jamie
Wonderful! Full disclosure for all of the listeners, I have had the opportunity to visit Mr. Gendusa’s class at Loyola. And if you’re ever a tourist visiting in the New Orleans area and have a chance to check out a Loyola theater and dance production or their space on campus, which is just state of the art, it’s a no brainer. Now, I’m sure, just like higher education institutions across America, I’m sure Loyola had to close campus for COVID-19. When and how was the news delivered?

Patrick
I believe it was Tuesday, March 10th. I got a text in the middle of the night from the Dean, the dean of the College of Music and Media, Dean Kern, who’s the most awesome dean ever. But he texted me in the middle of the night and said, uh, I need all hands on deck in the morning and I was like, whoa, this isn’t good. So we all the dean’s and the chairs and everyone got together that morning in the College of Music and Media and he told us., all right, look, it’s going down. The president’s going to announce this afternoon to all the students that we’re moving online come Monday morning, all classes. So this is Wednesday morning when he told us Wednesday afternoon, everyone else was gonna be notified, he said Thursday and Friday class all classes would be cancelled, giving everyone the opportunity to prepare. Starting that Monday, Loyola is moving online. It was fast and furious, and at first he said, because we’re the college of music and media, we’re all all the arts. We had so many performances and productions and recitals and concerts scheduled. He said all performances or all public events with 50 or more people would have to be canceled. So I’m like hmm, we were getting ready to open up Cabaret in about a week and 1/2 – the musical Cabaret – and I thought, okay, okay… so what if I just limited the audiences to 50 people every night? We could still go. But then, as you know, and as today I mean things change every hour with this pandemic. And by the end of the day, it was like everything is canceled. So you know, the entire remainder, remainder of this semester all public events were canceled. All students had to leave, all staff and faculty had to leave.

Jamie
What a gut punch. Now you mentioned Cabaret… Where in the rehearsal process was the production and who all was involved?

Patrick
So we were directing Kander and Ebbs’ Cabaret that was directed by Bryan Batt, the star of TV, film and Broadway, and his husband, Tom Cianfichi. And there had been in rehearsals for about five weeks at least. We were a week and a half from opening, so…  a week and half before opening is a long time in theatre. So we weren’t ready. You know, we were going in to cue-to-cue that night. That night, that Wednesday night when everything went down at Loyola and in the whole country we were ready to go in to cue-to-cue. And I made an executive decision. I did not… I apologized to all involved after, but when I found out that this was going down, I said, I contacted everyone and said, everyone meet at the theater tonight. We’re doing Cabaret at seven o’clock.

Jamie
Oh, my goodness. Okay, tell us what exactly transpired next.

Patrick
And it was nothing short of a miracle. I mean, I apologized to all the designers and everyone said, I’m sorry, but we need to give these kids an opening night. We cannot, I cannot just tell them, you all go home, don’t bother coming tonight, it’s over. I’ve been in this situation before, something similar, and you just cannot. You can’t take it away from them like that. I had to give them an opening night. They needed that.

Jamie
I’m sure for some of your actors and actresses, this was their last performance opportunity at Loyola!

Patrick
Or their first! Or even just the ones that have been here for a while. It’s still, you know, it’s like your baby and it’s a part of you. So I mean the light designer, the costume designer, the set designer, the TD… Everyone worked for about 3 to 4 hours nonstop until curtain at seven o’clock. Everyone invited everyone to come. We did Cabaret with costumes and lights and set. Now everything wasn’t 100% completed, but we gave them a full house and an opening and closing night. And it was bittersweet. And I mean, there are lots of tears and the kids were heartbroken. But what they don’t realize that they have the most incredible theater story that is better than any story, that if the show would have gone on normal, it’s truly magical. That night, the energy in the theater that night, what the entire artistic and design team did in a matter of hours was nothing short of a miracle.

Jamie
I’m glad you brought that up. Not everybody really is aware that there is so much more that really goes on behind the scenes in the lead up to these short performances that an audience sits through. It’s kind of the metaphor of the iceberg, right, that 90% of the iceberg is actually below the surface of the water. And what a great metaphor for theater because we have 90% of the work. The costume fittings, the initial read through all of the rehearsals, the technical run throughs. 90% of this process happens before the 10% of performances that the audience actually sees, just like the 10% of the iceberg above the surface of the water. So although that sounds so devastating, the show went on, which is truly an inspiration.

Patrick
It was like I said, bottom line is I just… We had to give them this opening night. We couldn’t, we couldn’t do that. And I apologized to everyone and said uh, you know, the designers and all, sorry, you know, I’m sorry I didn’t check with you first, but there wasn’t time. I mean, it was you know, it was almost panic and pandemonium. As chair, I mean, I had to keep my cool for them because they were all freaking out and I was dying. My heart was breaking inside for them, but I had to keep keep a happy face on and keep everyone’s spirits up.

Jamie
So I have to ask you what stuck with you and what stuck with your students from that experience?

Patrick
I don’t think they realize yet what’s gonna stick with them from that experience, because I’ve told them several times since then that you don’t realize what happened that night yet. Because these poor kids, in one moment their entire lives were, the entire life that they knew was taken away from them. They were in control of their lives in the dorms, in apartments, were in charge of their own schedule, their lives. Now they’re stuck back at home with all of their siblings and their parents. Some of them are having to take care of their siblings and now do classes online. It’s just complete chaos, and their lives are not their own anymore. They have no privacy. They don’t have a quiet place, you know, to work, there’s no library to go to and study. So it’s really… they’re affected more than anyone. Yeah, and we’re all affected. They are truly affected… So they, even though they appreciated what happened that night. One day they’ll realize, oh ho ho that was pretty freaking cool.

Jamie
It’ll come.

Patrick
Just so they’re still heartbroken and devastated right right now. For me, it was just the magic and the love and the spirit of this community that you can’t get us down ever, and we will rise above everything. I mean, the theater community is a community above all, and it’s it’s a remarkable thing to be a part of. It’s an honor to be a part of it. And that night was… it just makes my heart, you know, burst and smile. Every time I think about it.

Jamie
You are giving me goosebumps. Both the theater community and the New Orleans community are resilient. I mean, I just think about Hurricane Katrina and how the city has rebuilt better than ever before. Being that our listeners, just like many of your students, are stuck at home, are there any theater activities for home environments that we can do while we’re self-isolating?

Patrick
That’s not a theatre exercise, but turn off social media, Turn off the news, watch some mindless fun, silly stuff like Schitt’s Creek or anything. Okay, just get away from all of that. Take a walk, take a bike ride, the be– the weather here, it has been glorious. I mean, the weather has been absolutely glorious, and we can actually enjoy it. Um, so you know, do that. Turn off all that other stuff. Everything is the same right now. There’s nothing, nothing’s changing. As far as theater, one thing is that there’s so much theater that’s been made accessible online for everyone. If you just go playbill.com, they’ve got everything that’s available in all aspects, from musicals to stage plays, to documentaries, everything. So that – and a lot of ah websites have made things free. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s showing one of his musicals, and I think tonight is Phantom. I believe last week was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. There’s so much, really, if you just go to playbill.com, everything that’s theater on the Internet is there, and they can tell you how to watch it. So that’s a great thing. With regards to, like my classes, people say, well how do you teach acting and directing this semester? They say, how do you do that online? You don’t! You can’t. Yes, I mean, yes, I am teaching online. It’s not that I’m not doing my job, but there is no way I can recreate that magic. And that energy. And that’s when theater happens between two people on stage or between a teacher and two actors working in a classroom and that energy. And just that, that touch and that breath, you cannot recreate that online.

Jamie
I’m so glad you said that many performing arts teachers I know feel that their jobs might be in jeopardy post pandemic and that everything will remain online. But, Patrick, I’ve got to agree with you on this. The performing arts are so collaborative and so experiential. And the magic happens in the rehearsal rooms and in the studios together.

Patrick
Right, I mean, part of me too, I refuse to make this work. Because I’m not, because this can never be the norm. Okay, Yes, absolutely. There are situations, you know, one thing after Katrina, Loyola… we were always, we were always prepared to go online, so we were pretty ahead of the game for most universities. But what we learned after Katrina was that the university can never close and it never will close again. In situations like this or if we evacuate for a hurricane, we simply move online. So we’re ready to go online at any time for a hurricane, you know, for a few days or a week when we have to evacuate and we have to move online. Yes, there are things we can do and we can get through. But as far as teaching, acting permanently or directing permanently online for an entire semester or for the future? No! Not gonna happen. And I’m not gonna find a way to make it happen. I will find a way to get through situations like this that are emergencies and that, you know, we have to adjust. Absolutely. But nothing can ever replace the magic that happens in live theater. And through that experience. Sorry. There’s so many, so many wonderful theater… Professional theater actors are doing lots of live stage readings on Zoom. You know, you’ve got all the boxes with everybody, and they’re all doing a reading of a script and things like that, which is lovely. And people need stuff to do. I don’t know if you’ve watched any of ’em… I appreciate what they’re doing… Not workin’!  It’s just not the same.

Jamie
Amen to that. We are definitely going to check out playbill.com for all of our at-home theater activities and experiences. Also, how can we learn more about Loyola theater, arts and dance?

Patrick
You can go to the Loyola website, which is loyno – Loyola New Orleans – LOYNO.edu and you can find us there. You can also find the Department of Theater Arts and Dance on Facebook, on Twitter, on instagram and on YouTube. So we’re very, very active on social media. I have some terrific terrific students have just exploded taking over the social media aspect, and we’re staying very active. Even at this time. We’re staying very, very active. I did a wonderful thing. I reached out to all the theater arts and dance alums. I said, Hey y’all, these kids are struggling, send them some love, send them some words of encouragement. So I collected all these messages from all these alums and we’re gonna start this week posting them on social media for the students.

Jamie
Teaching Trailblazers is the production of the Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM, and I’ve been your host, Jamie Hipp. This podcast is produced, edited and mixed by Jaime Patterson.