This semester, students may find themselves seated in a peculiar classroom — one more traditionally suited for hosting productions of “Wicked” and “Les Misérables” than a University Foundations class.
The Velma V. Morrison Center on the northeast corner of campus houses a 2,000 seat venue that, in the time of COVID-19, allows for 162 students to sit physically distanced from one another, making it one of the highest-occupancy classroom spaces on campus.
Brian Thacker, the director of ticketing and event relations at the Morrison Center, says that in these unprecedented times, it is just one of the shifts that the campus community has made to safely bring students together.
“We have the seating, and we’re hoping to get students in the theater and get them connected to the university that way,” Thacker said.
The Morrison Center typically focuses on local and community involvement rather than just student involvement. It operates as an auxiliary event space on campus, like the ExtraMile Arena, operating within the university, but also bringing events from off-campus into their facilities.
The Morrison Center’s marketing and outreach coordinator Rose Orr has been responsible for conveying information from national promoters about touring cancellations and postponements to customers for the past five months.
“I get really sick and tired of only sending cancellations and bad news, but it’s weird and evolving and I don’t really know what my job will be next week,” Orr said.
According to Orr, in an effort to curb some of that negativity and keep patrons engaged, the center has tried using social media campaigns to keep people interested while waiting for safer times to reopen the theater. However, Orr admitted that, while in the midst of a pandemic, a societal reckoning with systemic racism and a broad uncertainty for the future, some of their most rewarding work has included bringing the community together in entirely new ways.
“[This pandemic] has become a launching point for creatives to see what’s new that can be done,” Orr said.
In lieu of insensitive optimism, the Morrison Center has been able to support local artists with the COVID Cultural Commissioning Fund, alongside Treefort Music Fest and the Boise City Department of Arts and History, according to Orr. One hundred and eighty-eight artists applied for the fund, and 69 were able to receive a $1,000 commission to create and document life during the COVID-19 pandemic, which will be showcased virtually later this fall.
Richard Klautsch, the chair of the Department of Theater, Film and Creative Writing, said that over the past several years the relationship between the academic department he oversees and the business operations of the Morrison Center has grown stronger. The department is housed in the Morrison Center building, facilitating an open and supportive relationship.
“We have at least two students per year working at the Morrison Center,” Klautsch said. “It’s a great place for our students to get professional experience. And it’s gotten to a place where it’s mutually supportive and mutually beneficial.”
Theater programs are sometimes able to show productions on the Morrison Center stage, and the department of music uses the stage every year, giving students experience working in a space that world-class performers also utilize.
As to when the Morrison Center will fully reopen depends largely on health guidance and the availability of a vaccine. For now, the center has events planned through some of the fall and into 2021, including a February run of “Hamilton.”
Similarly, Klautsch said that his department had two plays scheduled for this fall that were postponed to the spring, but that artists in and around Boise State will create worthwhile art no matter what happens.
“They’re showing us that they can think outside the box in ways many of us have never thought of before,” Klautsch said. “And that’s what artists do. They’re like water, and they’re going to flow wherever they can. And they’re going to make their voices heard.”