Photo Provided by Ryan Manikowski
Photo Provided by Ryan Manikowski

Ryan Manikowski Pulls Back the Curtain on LBSU’s Theater Department

By Caroline Smith

Ryan Manikowski is an LBSU Theater Tech student looking forward to his final semester of university. Manikowski is passionate about all aspects that go into making a theatrical production: he writes short poems, has a prolific acting career, and is dedicated to the value of theater tech. Having studied previously at an arts high school, Cal Arts, and Grossmont Community College, Manikowski has experienced a breadth of theater departments and systems. I sat down with him, over zoom, to discuss theater, school, and that dastardly consumerism.

It’s interesting now that I can ask how the transition coming out of quarantine is going. What’s it like moving from zoom to in person theater?
It’s definitely a transition. Right now we don’t have access to our materials, we can’t get into the building it’s in. Unless you have class on campus and a green check mark, you can’t really get involved in productions. Lately we’ve been using resources at the USU and talking with the dance department and participated in their Art Walk. That was difficult because we didn’t get testing guidelines until the week of the performance and so it was hard for performers to get tested in a timely manner. The landscape of how we can bring people in is constantly changing and new guidelines have given us new challenges to work through.

What has it been like in the theater department getting back on campus?
There are things I'm unsure I can talk about. Over summer, we [the students] wrote a manifesto of things that could be worked on in the department. It’s been an interesting time to communicate with professors and staff. Amidst the roadblocks, it seems our department is trying to document everything that is still functional in the building and constructing new facilities for upcoming students to use. Yet, for current students, the building seems eerily vacant, especially those in their last year.

I’m interested as someone outside of the department. I don’t want to put you in a tough space, but can you elaborate?
It seems like with any university, there’s a kind of hierarchy, among professors, staff, students, majors. Some things just feel a little two faced. No one heard a word on the student’s side for a season. My old community college is having normal shows again, and I'm trying to figure out if I should be hurt by that. At a university, when you’re paying a lot for a higher education, it’s supposed to be an elevated experience, but it’s mixed. Theater Threshold has taken the place of the momentum to have projects to show. We keep facing a lot of roadblocks.

What is Theatre Threshold?
Theater Threshold is a student-led theater company on campus that I’m the Art Director for and we’re dedicated to making students’ visions and dreams a reality. You don’t have to be a theater major to produce something over the semester. We produce at least one, free show every week. Over quarantine they were on zoom, and we’re working with the department now to get back in the theater space. Right now we're having as many virtual showings of these shows in our courtyard and are trying to make plans to have screenings inside the Players Theatre.

Is it important to you that the Theater Threshold shows are free?
Well I think theater is a communal process. It's supposed to be with the community. Not only that, but America’s value of theater is different. Other countries will have free theater days or student days. Meanwhile, the theater here is exceptionally expensive. Musical theater and Broadway has definitely contributed to that problem of commodification. I think it's a very high price gap that I don't think should exist.
I do think there should be more free theater, more community theater. They put out very important, beautiful, passionate plays. The message that a community theater has is for it’s own community and that’s impactful. I think it’s very important that everyone can have access to those messages.

What do you think the general literature around theater will come to look like out of the pandemic?
I know that plays, unless they’re immersive, will get shorter. They’ll have to adapt to shorter attention spans or maintain a real spectacle. I don’t think we’ll hit the avant-garde, because people will not be ‘there.’ That kind of elitist art where it's really out there and fancy, is out-of-touch and doing a disservice to a general audience, especially one coming out of a pandemic.
In our conversation, Ryan said this, which I think will stick with me as a creative writing student:
“The whole point of university is to tinker. To fail beautifully and learn.”
Theater Threshold is looking to have weekly, in-person, in-theater shows next semester. To learn more go to @csulbtheatrehub on Instagram.