All the drama, all the stories: Theater at Boise State is thriving

Photo by Niamh Brennan

I’ve been hungry for a story — for a good story. To sit, listen and be captivated. To be swept off my feet and out of my chair, forget my name, my problems and my life. 

I had never given theater its credence before. Like kale and documentaries, it was shelved with things I always wanted to try but never quite got around to actually sinking my teeth into. 

That all changed when I sat down for Boise State University’s Theater Arts Department’s last show, Wolf/Girl. The lights dimmed, the hush fell over the audience and how I experienced a story was changed forever.

Wolf/Girl is a play of magical realism, heart and depth. The main character, Maddy, runs into the woods where she saves a wolf and is granted a wish by his pack. She then wishes for the impossible: to free herself from the constraints of society by becoming one of them — to become a wolf. 

What follows is a heroic journey that is insightfully conscious and eloquently portrayed. It’s a script of heart, depth and indignation balanced by sparkling humor delivered by dedicated actors, further brought to life by a collaborative crew with a stunning set design. 

BSU’s Theater Arts Department has been telling stories with great heart and depth since 1968, with productions ranging from Shakespeare’s works to SpongeBob The Musical. The department’s culture today is one of collaborative creativity and warm associations among playwrights, actors and crew — not to mention the eager audience. A positive environment both behind the curtain and on the stage, however, is a rare balance. 

Ben Lamb, a senior theater major at BSU who’s performed in three productions within the last year, spoke to his experience as one of the leading actors in Wolf/Girl. 

“Collaborative is the best way to describe the entire work. Heidi was there the whole time, making slight adjustments,” said Lamb. “Our cast had such a family dynamic — everyone was just working together to bring this play to life for the first time ever.”

Lamb’s experience with the Theater Arts Department has been extensive and involved, and his excitement for it is infectious.

Annalise Rackerby, a senior theater student, was the sound designer for Wolf/Girl. Sometimes, crew members experience a production different from the actors. 

“It truly was a thrill charting out every audio cue and enacting them individually into each scene. While tech for this play was quite a challenge to endure, knowing what the end result was going to be definitely kept my spirits high,” said Rackerby. “Ecstatic doesn’t even begin to describe the feeling of the fact that I was able to share my musical expressions with the Boise community.”

Even among such happy spirits, there must be a catch. University Art departments, including theater, have seen struggles nationwide. These limitations can come in many shapes and sizes: sometimes it looks like an empty theater because COVID-19 outbreaks mean it’s unsafe for large gatherings, and sometimes it means that an artist’s vision has to be edited because it’s too expensive to fulfill. 

The New York Times released an article detailing how humanity subjects, including art departments, have been feeling the financial cutbacks since the 1970s. So how do the people from BSU’s theater department operate within these limitations?

The individuals within have risen up to make these constraints work for them is what promotes such a lovely, productive atmosphere. That spirit of collaboration and positivity is well represented by Heidi Kraay, adjunct professor, playwright and one of Boise’s Writers in Residence. Kraay also happens to be the playwright of Wolf/Girl. 

As one of the Writers in Residence of Boise, Kraay is also offering free community classes called Filling Up Your Creative Well that portray the gentle yet constructive growth of creativity that Kraay is known for. 

One of the themes of Kraay’s workshop is learning how to work with creative limitations. Kraay teaches that these limitations are worth working with, not in spite of, because of the opportunities they offer artists. BSU’s art department is no stranger to financial struggles, but artists like Kraay are learning to work through it — and lead others along the way. 

With those potential challenges facing the department, Kraay was fearlessly positive when asked about how to work within those limits. 

“That’s actually where you start to utilize your creativity. Because creativity is so much about problem-solving. Working within those constraints, we ask, ‘How do we shift this? How do we figure out how to make it work?’ … We find ways to work with the systems or outside of the systems and to work together as artists and collaborators.” 

This acceptance and emerging creativity work not only for Theatre but also for the individual. And that’s what theater is all about — humanity and the living of life. 

Kraay’s play Wolf/Girl is about hunger — be it for nature and humanity to live in balance, for your authentic voice to be heard or just to sink your teeth into the meat of life itself. To taste freedom and feel capable within your own right. As someone who’s been hungry for a good story, I felt more than satisfied.

And when it comes to the Theater Arts Department here at Boise State University, I’d recommend pulling up a seat for such a buffet. And for those of you who are as hungry as I am for good storytelling, The Sound of Music will be performed April 12-14th at the Morrison Center for Performing Arts. Get ready to sit, listen and be captivated. 

Get ready to be swept off your feet and out of your chair — forget your name, problems and your life as you knew it before a story changed you.

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