ALUMKNIGHTS: Dramashop director follows advice to be an artist

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“This is really stupid,” I thought, sitting in the greenroom of the Schuster Theatre.

“What a colossal waste of time.” A VHS recording of “Waiting for Godot” played on the big screen TV in the Rev. Shawn Clerkin’s Theatre Criticism class. In the middle of a hectic day of group projects, radio shifts and a work-study job, watching Samuel Beckett’s famous “play about nothing” was the last thing I wanted to do.

But I was a theatre and communication arts major, and Beckett is fiber in the diet of every healthy theatre student. As the characters spent two acts waiting for a man who — spoiler alert — never comes, I wondered what was so great about this “masterpiece” play.

On another day, in another classroom, A.J. Miceli, now the director of the School of Communication and the Arts, proudly declared college a chance to fail safely, to take chances without fear of failure or rejection.

Better to fail in the comfort of a classroom than in the real world, even if that classroom is a theater, or a radio or television studio. As a theatre and communication arts major, I tried my hand at everything, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing, but always giving it my best shot.

And on another day, in yet another classroom, I studied Intro to Literature with the legendary Dr. Rouch, a longtime Gannon professor who passed away a few years ago.

He ended every semester with a lecture where he challenged every single student, from physician assistants to philosophy majors and everyone in between, to be an artist.

“If you’re going to be a doctor,” he’d say, “be an artist.”

If you’re going to be a mechanic, be an artist. No matter what your occupation, make it your art. Be an artist. Find your passion and live it. Whatever you do, be an artist.

Fast forward a dozen or so years. I’m now a Gannon graduate, working by day at my alma mater as the director of enrollment communications and technology.

By night, I serve as the founding artistic director of Dramashop, a nonprofit theatre company in the Renaissance Centre at 10th and State Streets.

I love my job at Gannon, and I love my job at Dramashop. The latter is a volunteer gig, and it’s my passion.

At Dramashop, a group of like-minded theatre artists come together to produce and perform contemporary and challenging works. We’re not paid for it. We have day jobs.

Lawyers, physician assistants, teachers, people from all walks of life with a shared interest in live, provocative, challenging theater come together to produce the works of David Mamet, Sarah Ruhl, Wendy Wasserstein, Neil Labute and many others.

I started Dramashop in 2011, along with four other like-minded theatre artists — among them, Clerkin, my former professor and academic adviser, who I’m proud to call my mentor and friend today.

As a student, I was constantly challenged by Shawn, A.J., Dr. Rouch and many others to do more, to be more, to write, produce, create, communicate and lead.

They taught me to work hard and to have faith, to find my passion and to pursue it. I’m forever grateful for the education I received; it goes far beyond anything covered on a syllabus.

Last week, “Waiting for Godot” opened at Dramashop. With a little more life experience, that “play about nothing” doesn’t feel tedious and it’s certainly no waste of time.

It’s about friendship. It’s about faith. It’s about taking chances and believing in something, even if you might fail. It’s a masterful work of art, and I’m proud to call myself an artist.

Find out more about Dramashop’s latest productions at www.dramashop.org.

ZACH FLOCK

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