Today marked the start for our new class of freshman at USC School of Dramatic Arts. Sergio Ramirez, Director of Academic Services, along with Admissions Counselor Ramón Valdez, planned an extravagant theme, which Marissa Gonzalez, Director of Special Events executed with her usual panache. The theme, SDA Rodeo.
I’ll admit, I groaned audibly when Marissa told me I would have to wear something appropriately festive for the lunch. All my cowboy boots (remember the 80s?) are long gone, and the only jeans I own are more Mom jeans than Dude ranch. Marissa confessed that I was not the only one who complained. But once we arrived, given the opportunity to humiliate ourselves with silly costumes, we embraced the moment.
The apron of the Bing stage was garnished with two stacks of rodeo-themed props downstage left and right. The ubiquitous crates which multiply in the Shrine basement when we aren’t looking were stacked up artfully, a homey picture frame chalked with Welcome SDA! sitting atop another pile of barrels and other Rodeo-themed props near the podium.
Marissa instructed us to enter through the lobby, where we passed the new students checking in at the box office window, then gathering in effervescent groups just inside the door. You remember what it was like those first few days of college? Where everyone you met held the promise of being your next best friend? When you were terrified of not knowing anyone, and worried about seeming unsophisticated, or clumsy, or unfashionable? Or all three? When you weren’t sure who you would go to lunch with? The angst! The butterflies in the stomach!
What could be more brilliant than to give everyone goofy costume pieces so we all looked clumsy, unsophisticated and unfashionable? And then feed us lunch together? Two problems solved! Ramón thrust a large rectangular frame toward me, and I took it, fitting my face inside and smiling broadly. He snapped a picture. Then I turned the frame around, read “Wanted” across the top, and made him take another less animated photo. I wandered over to see what goofy costume piece I could try. I grabbed a red bandana, tying it to my Mom jean belt loop, then added a silly paper cowboy vest. Dan Fishbach wandered by, a teeny cardboard cowboy hat perched jauntily on his head. His hat was dwarfed by Sheriff Bridel’s massive headgear.
The faculty and staff greeted each other warmly with hugs, taking private moments to acknowledge our shared loss of colleague Paul Backer. But this was not the time for grieving. We entered the Bing, the students were herded into the center, the faculty and staff corralled off in the back forty (okay, it was house right).
We have several new faculty this semester. Christopher Shaw, above, will direct George F. Walker’s play, Escape From Happiness; director VP Boyle (below) is directing Side Show, book and lyrics by Sam Russell, music by Henry Krieger. VP was rocking a terrific hat today. Later I saw him talking with students at lunch, who were leaning in to hear his thoughts.
After a slide show of photos and captions sent in by the incoming students and edited by Sergio and Ramón, and welcoming remarks by Dean Bridel, we lined up for delicious food, burgers and salad, roasted corn on the cob, and ice cream.
Paula L. Cizmar, author of the upcoming MFA Rep production of Antigone X and I hung out in the lunch line, this photo of Paula (looking rather skeptical) taken by Sara Fousekis. We then scattered to eat with the students at gingham cloth-covered tables, pulled up the antiqued white folding chairs like we were at the county fair. The students were having a ball, and by the time we got our food and joined them, they had bonded with each other so really had no use for us.
At 1:30, the students all assembled on the steps of the Bing for their class picture and we wandered back to our offices to continue prepping for the start of the semester.
And Marissa, you threw a great party today! Thank you for making us all feel at home.