By Josiah Laubenstein
My semester teaching at Luther College was supposed to have me spending a lot more time in Decorah. Instead, like everyone else, I’ve spent a lot of time staying put. “Distance learning” is the phrase we’ve used, which frankly sounds like avoiding actual learning like the plague – no pun intended.
Theatre is a very in-the-room experience. That’s the whole point: breathing the same air, going through everything together, at once, in real time. No lag from bad connections, no trouble joining the right Zoom-Chat-Google Meets, you just sit in your seat and participate by being. Videotaped theatre is lacking at best. What seemed so electric in person, can feel flat when translated to the screen. Teaching is very similar. Something essential is missing. In a way this virus has made us all think about how connected we really are. How vastly one person can affect (not infect) others. How many people we connect with to the second or third degree in a week’s time. It’s an awesome number. Which used to feel so unifying, and will feel that way again.
My students are coping to varying degrees. Students who were supposed to graduate on campus, have a last hug and goodbye before tossing their mortarboards won’t get to do that. They bear up as best they can, given the circumstances. It’s been inspiring. They’re doing better than I would’ve at their age. The weekly classes help provide much needed structure; we lean on each other. A year’s worth of planning pushed back and back and back until… who knows? You know. You’ve all done the same. I’ve been around for a very short time in their collegiate lives, but if I had the opportunity to say a few words to each of them I would say this:
“It’s all about connection and community. It always has been. Both onstage and off. Real personal connection. The absence highlights the presence that was there, that will be there again. This industry is a small one. The people you meet today you’ll see again tomorrow and the next and the next. Make good impressions. And stay in touch. Let people know you care. Even if it’s only via Zoom. For now.”
The Commonweal Theatre community extends beyond Lanesboro. I’m evidence of that, and you are too. Rippling out from Lanesboro to Decorah to wherever you are and beyond. It’s heartening, and is connective in a way that I need. So thank you. To you, to the students at Luther, to the people in your lives who make you better. Thank you. I need this community. I’m glad we’re a part of it together.