Expression through a pandemic: A look into CSUN’s theatre department

Ashley Macalino, extreme left, Joy Slack, Daniel McKinley, Karo Dzhgalian, Tommi Jo Mongold and Jocelyn Soriano rehearse for the upcoming production of “Everybody” in Northridge, Calif. on Friday, Oct. 14, 2021.

Graciela Colorado, Reporter

Described by students as an environment that supports creativity, engagement, inspiration and free expression, CSUN’s theatre department gives students and faculty the opportunity to gain skills in theatre and work together as a team.

“I’ve always been interested in theatre, but being Asian American, I’ve never disclosed that to my parents or any of my friends,” said CSUN alumna Jihae Son. “I’ve always had that in the back of my mind but I decided to major [in] theatre after my first semester.”

Son was originally interested in getting into the credential program for education, but after taking her first theatre class at CSUN, she changed her major.

“It was mainly how the class was structured,” Son said. “It really provided the experience and what it means to act and what it means to be in [the] theatre environment.”

Son is grateful for the mentors she had at CSUN throughout her education career. She praises the dedication of Professor Mathew Jackson, with teaching her new skills that involve theatre and the working field.

“He is incredible, not just because he was my professor, but because he creates an incredible space for stage managers,” Son said. “I definitely learned a lot on how to become a stage manager, how to organize, how to send emails professionally, how to make resumes — you know all these kinds of mannerisms.”

Joy Slack, lying on the floor, and Ashley Macalino rehearse a scene for the upcoming production of “Everybody” on in Northridge, Calif. on Friday, Oct. 14, 2021. (Jordan Haddad)

Son said professor and now department chair Ah-Jeong Kim, provides a great learning environment in her classes.

“Professor Kim is an incredible scholar. She mainly teaches the theatre history classes and she makes it so fun,” Son said. “Everybody loves AJ [Ah-Jeong Kim] because her enthusiasm transmits into her lectures — it is incredible how she teaches.”

The department assists more than 250 undergraduate and graduate theatre majors a year. Every semester the theatre department brings together over 100 students who work with faculty, staff and professional guests in order to create theatrical works to the stage. This includes plays like Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” “Legally Blonde: The Musical,” and “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

Regardless of their major, all CSUN students have the opportunity to participate in auditions.

According to department chair Ah-Jeong Kim, the CSUN theatre department’s goal is to offer multiple classes in acting, directing, design, technology, management, theatre, history and more.

“The undergraduate program allows our students to discover the treasure within themselves,” Kim said in an email to the Sundial. “Upon graduation, they are prepared for graduate-level education, work in a professional theatre, government programs and [work in a] popular entertainment industry.”

Kim said students have opportunities to act, direct, design sets, make costumes and do make-up.

Current student and CSUN Theatre Guild President Roderick Villegas discussed how CSUN professors have been supportive throughout the pandemic and how they incorporated their personal experiences into their courses.

“What I love about CSUN is that the professors are encouraged to work on shows in the field that they’re working in,” Villegas said. “The educational basis is fantastic to me and specifically during the pandemic we just have so many professors that are really involved with the students and really care about what’s happening.”

Director Larry Biederman, left, gives stage directions during the rehearsals for the upcoming production of “Everybody” while Darian Calderon, right, waits for direction on in Northridge, Calif. on Friday, Oct. 14, 2021. (Jordan Haddad)

Professor and director of the play “Everybody” Larry Biederman comes from many training programs throughout the country such as the Williamstown Theatre Festival, the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego and Cal State University Fullerton.

Biederman said that the challenges of the class teaches students to see obstacles as innovation rather than discouragement.

“I often tell them that the word ‘no’ is an invitation for a better idea,” Biederman said. “I hope that concept and spirit proves useful to them in their lives.”

According to Biederman, the courses would be helpful to students not only in directing, but also aesthetics and criticism.

“I think I would stress that we hope that our major helps students in the field of theatre but also proves applicable in any endeavor,” Biederman said. “I hope that concept and spirit proves useful to them in their lives.”

Biederman said the department faced obstacles due to COVID-19, especially when it comes to adapting relevant theatre skills into the online format.

“The challenge of covid is obviously that we are teaching a live and collaborative art form from a distance,” Biederman said. “Through recordings, expressing from the neck up rather than the whole body.”

Biederman said that “Everybody” will be the first play with live actors and an audience since the start of the pandemic. Proof of vaccination or negative test results 72 hours prior is required for admittance to all performances and masks will be required to be worn at all times.

“[The actors] will be unmasked when on stage but at a safe distance and we will be using masks when addressing the audience,” Biederman said.

During the fall semester, the theatre department will be open in-person for assistance Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The department is located in Nordhoff Hall on the southwest corner of CSUN.

For more information on how to get involved, visit their administrative offices, located in Nordhoff Hall 110 or email