SFA theatre students rehearse a scene from “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead”

Cushing theatre student Drake Willis and fellow “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead” castmates at Stephen F. Austin State University rehearse a scene from the School of Theatre’s Mainstage show that runs Oct. 6 through 10 in Kennedy Auditorium on the SFA campus. The show will also be live streamed.

NACOGDOCHES, Texas – Theatre students at Stephen F. Austin State University have prepared for their presentation of “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead” in ways they have never experienced, even for the most seasoned actors and crew members.

With the world still in the throes of the COVID pandemic, all students – from freshmen to seniors – are taking extra precautions to keep each other safe while still trying to connect with their acting partners on stage, according to Crayten Clendion, senior from Cypress who has acted in numerous Mainstage plays at SFA.

“It’s different from previous years – from stage management to the cast,” she said.

Safety for actors and crew used to mean creating the stage scenic environment in a safe manner and keeping physical safety in mind while choreographing and blocking for a show. Today, the connotation of safety takes on a more earnest meaning, said Cleo House Jr., director of the School of Theatre and of the play.

“Like everyone, I’m processing what we’re living through on multiple levels,” House said. “Naturally, safety is a concern, but also of concern is our students’ development as artists. I think moving on with doing shows live has provided a sense of normalcy and stability. Rehearsing a show is partly about building community and ensemble. We’re in a time where many communities, for good reason, are fractured or don’t exist. Participating in this process is as much as much about preserving mental health of those who need to be around others as it is about serving our students pedagogically.”

Bert V. Royal’s “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead” is a play about a teenage boy, CB, who begins to question the existence of an afterlife after his dog dies. The School of Theatre will present the show at 7:30 nightly Oct. 6 through 10 in Kennedy Auditorium on campus. It will also be live streamed.

Freshman Astrid Maldonado of Katy is new to collegiate performing, and her indoctrination to the Mainstage Series comes with wearing a mask.

“That’s what has challenged me the most – getting used to acting with a mask on and remembering to be aware of things I've never had to worry about before,” she said. “Covid-19, plus being in my first Mainstage at SFA, has been such a new experience, and I'm learning new things and trying to adjust to this environment. Everyone I have met and worked with has been a huge help in getting me accustomed.”

Despite the mask requirement, Maldonado still feels connected to her castmates.

“I’m grateful to be a part of my first Mainstage with such hardworking and talented people I can learn from,” she said. “Something that's surprised me is how fast the rehearsal process seemed to fly by. It feels like so much has happened in such a short amount of time.”

For Houston junior Nychollete Easter, assistant director of the play, a difference in directing today and directing pre-COVID is “a lot less face-to-face contact and staging.”

“We have to make sure that the actors are safe, but also that the show still looks good and not awkward,” she said. “There’s a lot of reworking scenes to adjust to a safety precaution that needs to be considered. Overall, there is just a bit more to consider this year.”

Regardless of the rehearsal circumstances, Easter hopes the audience, both in person and virtually, “gets the real-life aspects of the show.”

“The events that take place in the show are problems that are happening every day to teenagers all over the world,” Easter said. “These things are real problems that a lot of older adults don't see happen or choose to ignore. This show is very good at showing how grief affects a person no matter how popular or good looking they are. This show is meant to make people uncomfortable, because usually when people get uncomfortable, they want to change the thing that made them uncomfortable. I want the audience to want to bring about change so that issues like the ones discussed in the show are addressed.”

Clendion believes that the new lessons she is learning about preparing for a stage role in the midst of a pandemic will bode her well as she seeks employment post-graduation.

“The Bachelor of Fine Arts degree is like a pre-professional program that teaches you how to be successful in the professional world of theatre,” she said. “My professors have supported and guided me so that I understand what life is like after graduation. They have shown me the tools that I will need in order to be successful.”

House said “Dog Sees God” is for mature audiences and would likely be rated R in movie terms, mostly due to language and subject matter.

Because of social distancing requirements, seating in Kennedy Auditorium will be limited for each performance. Patrons are required to wear face coverings. Actors on stage will not wear masks during live performances. However, performance areas are more than six feet away from patron seating.

General ticket prices are: adult, $15; senior (62+), $10; non-SFA student, $10; SFA faculty/staff, $7.50; youth, $7.50; SFA student, $5; virtual access, $15. Live virtual access is available for all performances. Purchase tickets/access at boxoffice.sfasu.edu or call (936) 468-6407. For questions about the play, contact the School of Theatre at (936) 468-4003.