Communication studies cohort travels to performance festival

Communication studies cohort travels to performance festival

By Grace Mertz /

Every semester, the Department of Communication Studies hosts student and faculty performances in its Interpreters Theatre, located on the University of Northern Iowa's campus in Lang Hall. These performances range from one-person shows to full-cast plays and give students the chance to write, direct, and act in a black box theatre.

As one of the top performance studies programs in the U.S., UNI also sends faculty and graduate students to performance festivals and conferences around the country, and this spring semester was no exception.

In January, three graduate students from the performance studies cohort traveled to the Patti Pace Performance Festival in Savannah, Georgia. Alexander Sojka, Shreya Singh, and Grace Mertz, along with Communication Studies Instructor Joshua Hamzehee, spent two days on the Armstrong campus of Georgia Southern University as representatives of UNI’s performance studies program.

The Patti Pace Performance Festival, the premiere performance studies festival in the country, is an annual celebration of performance studies, theatre arts, and performative writing. Created to honor the beloved performance studies practitioner Patricia “Patti” Pace, the festival migrates around the United States and emphasizes a different theme each year.

Graduate students attending the festival are invited to bring original performances, lead workshop groups, and make connections that benefit their future careers as performers, educators, writers, and creative professionals.

The festival’s 2020 theme was “Moving Photographs: Performing Our Storied Histories.” Guest artist Melanie Kitchens O’Meara led festival attendees through a series of workshops, encouraging them to adapt historical photographs into short performances that reflected social issues, personal stories, and connections to the past.

Sojka, Singh, and Mertz, who worked as Graduate Assistants in the Interpreters Theatre at UNI, each led a workshop group of undergraduate students.

“It was a really energizing experience,” said Mertz, a master’s student in her final semester. “Festivals are always a great way to connect with the performance community, learn some new techniques, and get back to my roots as a writer and performer.”

Singh, who is relatively new to the field of performance studies, added, “The creative atmosphere at the festival was really inspiring. It was interesting to see how people make connections, create stories, and perform them.”

The UNI group also shared a performance at the festival: Instructor Hamzehee’s one-man show, “Burnt City,” which discussed U.S.-Iran relations using poetry, humor, and Farsi. The graduate students gained valuable experience as technical assistants by helping with this performance.

Mertz served as Instructor Hamzehee’s assistant director and lighting designer, helping him edit the script and create special effects, while Singh and Sojka managed props, publicity, and audience interaction for the show.

“Even working behind the scenes on a show is so satisfying,” Mertz observed. “I love performing, but it’s always a gift to just be part of it and see the audience respond to what we’ve made.”

As Graduate Assistants in the Interpreters Theatre, Sojka, Singh, and Mertz built sets, expanded the theatre’s community presence, redesigned the website, and more. The theatre also offered each graduate student the opportunity to create, devise, direct, and perform their own show.

Singh said, “The people at [the Interpreters Theatre] are some of the most innovative people I have worked with. It's fun to be around their creative energy and dedication to performance!”

The Interpreters Theatre cohort was excited to share their work on March 5, 6, and 7, with Instructor Hamzehee’s on-campus performance of “Burnt City.” 

The theatre’s schedule changes every semester to include new, exciting shows. To view the current Interpreters Theatre season and learn more about how you can get involved, visit the theatre’s website.