Theatre art professor Jen Thomas insists she did not come here planning to revitalize the theatre department; she has simply tried to do her part. Nonetheless, Thomas has made a lasting mark on theatre at Concordia during her tenure here, both onstage and off.
A number of changes have occurred in the theatre department since Thomas joined Concordia’s faculty, though she is reluctant to take too much credit.
“Do I think I had a hand in it, yeah, but do I think I’m the only reason, no,” Thomas said.
Thomas sees the skills practiced in theatre as applicable to nearly any field. She cited a little-known connection between business and theatre as an example.
“A big part of business is presentation and self-awareness and presence and confidence,” Thomas said. “And what better place to learn that than in the theatre?”
In keeping with her goal of “making the theatre accessible to more departments and more students,” Thomas has hosted annual staged readings of plays for Concordia’s Faith, Reason and World Affairs symposiums. The play chosen for the staged reading each year is meant to reflect in some way on the chosen theme of the symposium.
The theatre department’s presence online has increased too.
“I established a newsletter,” Thomas said. “I wanted a stronger web presence for prospective students, so we’re on Instagram and Twitter and Facebook.”
Thomas said she focused on improving the public relations side of the theatre department when she first came back to campus.
“I think I upped the stakes in terms of our visibility and our image,” Thomas said. “And that would be something I would take ownership over.”
The theatre’s increased image-consciousness is most evident in their hiring of a graphic design student to produce their promotional materials, a practice Thomas initiated. This collaboration has yielded results like the posters for “Urinetown,” which bore a marked resemblance to old Soviet propaganda, lightly emphasizing the production’s theme of social justice.
Although Thomas is humble about her role in Concordia theatre’s growth over the years, Thomas’ friend and English professor, Dawn Duncan, gives her more credit.
“I would say that hiring Jen was part of giving new life to the theatre program,” Duncan said.
Duncan expressed a degree of admiration for Thomas’ work with the theatre, especially the way Thomas’ and the department’s production choices have been deliberately planned to reflect current social issues.
Devan Luth, a junior who has participated in three of Thomas’ productions, highlighted this quality and its impact.
“(Concordia theatre) brings (up) issues that we don’t necessarily always think about,” Luth said. “And it really connects, you know, it’s BREW-ing in the theatre.”
Jonathan Wells, a sophomore Theatre major who has been in three of Thomas’ productions, said Thomas provides a good balance between friend and professor.
“If I just have a bunch of stuff going on I need to talk out, I can go to her for whatever I need.”
Luth, who is one of Thomas’ advisees, agrees with Wells’ characterization of Thomas as both a friend and a teacher, pointing out that in addition to discussing academics, Thomas asks her about her family life and her personal well-being as well.
“She’s a great advocate for my education,” Luth said.
Wells said Thomas has a unique insight into Concordia’s theatre because she completed her undergraduate work here.
“She understands where the department was, where it is and where it needs to go,” Wells said.
Austin Gerth is a member of Concordia’s class of 2016. He edits the Opinion section. He has worked variously as a pizza cook, night-time dishwasher, caterer and water park attendant. He is a writing major, having determined through his experiences in the working world that he is ill-suited to manual labor. He enjoys ginger ale and no longer owns a poodle. He also writes for The COBBlog, and contributes freelance writing to MPR.