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Arts Beat: Cal Poly Theatre Department presents SHELTER, an experimental production for these times

Cal Poly Theatre and Dance
Shelter, an interactive audio play opens March 6, 2021



The Cal Poly Theatre Department is exploring a new type of storytelling that’s meant for this moment in time. The experimental production called Shelter includes scenes students created from their homes.

Cal Poly student-actor Jessica Sater wrote and recorded one of the segments.

My Dream House is an interactive story where I am leading the audience through some exercises of drawing on their window pane and talking about a dream house. A house in a world that’s perfect,” Sater said .

The production is the creation of theatre Professor Karin Hendricks-Bolen. She says she got the idea for the spring production while packing up her belongings for a recent move.

“We’re spending so much time and having so many moments in our homes right now, maybe we should just take that as a hint - that it’s something to investigate,” Hendricks-Bolen said.

In past seasons, Cal Poly has put on at least three live performances during the school year. Since the pandemic, everything from performances and acting classes to rehearsals have moved online. Hendricks-Bolen says the theme of sheltering was something her students, and everyone, can relate to.

“Some of the stories that will be borne out of talking about your home are beautiful, some are whimsical, some are melancholy, some are hard, but it’s something that is universally shared,” Hendricks-Bolen said.

The audio play combines several short productions from students’ living spaces; whether that’s a dorm, apartment, or at home with their parents. Students received audio equipment to ensure high quality recordings.

“We shipped sound kits to each of the actors that included microphones and other technology to hook up to their devices,” said Hendricks-Bolen.

Sater says her professor asked the actors to produce autobiographical stories about their homes. Students practiced by writing about chairs, cups, and other household items. Sater decided she would focus her story on a dream house.

“I was in middle school and we all know middle school kind of sucks. I have divorced parents and it’s every kid’s dream when they have divorced parents is to have them be together," Sater said. "I was waiting for my brother, sitting in the car, staring out the window drawing a house, and suddenly I was in this different world."

In addition to the audio play, Shelter includes art installations in downtown San Luis Obispo. Students who normally design sets and costumes pivoted to make Shelter-inspired artwork. Their pieces will be housed in plexiglass boxes at various locations and storefront displays.

You can listen to Shelter for free beginning March 6. Find more information by visiting the Cal Poly Theatre and Dance web page.

The KCBX Arts Beat is made possible by a grant from The San Luis Obispo County Community Foundation.

Beth Thornton is a freelance reporter for KCBX, and a contributor to Issues & Ideas. She was a 2021 Data Fellow with the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, and has contributed to KQED's statewide radio show The California Report.
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