Students take initiative, bring back theater honor society

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Theater and dance junior Oscar Franco, business manager of the national honor society Alpha Psi Omega, and theater and dance sophomores Katy Wicker and Martin Rodriguez, respectively President and Vice President of Alpha Psi Omega, restarted the fraternity after 75 years of inactivity. One of the organization’s goals is to offer more opportunities for theater and dance majors to become part of a production.

Photo Credit: Fanny Trang | Daily Texan Staff

After a 75-year intermission, national theater honor society Alpha Psi Omega is back for another act at UT.

Sophomores Katie Wicker and Martin Rodriguez and senior Oscar Franco, all students in the Department of Theatre and Dance, are the driving force behind Alpha Psi Omega’s recent return to active status. They began laying the groundwork last spring, when they contacted the national organization and wrote a constitution for the proposed chapter. By mid-April, the group had a faculty sponsor, associate theater and dance professor Lucien Douglas.

“All of the theater faculty are either acting or otherwise engaged in projects, so it’s hard to find someone who is willing to give us their free time,” Rodriguez, the chapter’s vice president, said. “We were surprised and thrilled when he said yes.”

Wicker, the chapter president, said approximately 40 students attended the information session the group held earlier this semester. Rush events begin in early October, when students will be divided into groups and instructed to write and perform original plays. The week will culminate in a showcase Oct. 12.

The UT theater and dance program is one of the largest in the country, with an average of 300 students majoring in theatre studies and dance each year, according to the department’s website. However, it has not had an active chapter of Alpha Psi Omega since 1937. Throughout the ‘90s and again in 2005, students attempted to bring the organization back to UT, but the project never came to fruition.

One of Alpha Psi Omega’s main goals is to increase the number of performance opportunities available to undergraduate students. Although the theater department stages up to eight shows a year on its main stage and features up to 20 student-produced shows, opportunities for undergraduates are somewhat limited, Franco said.

“There are many great options, but at the same time there are just so many people in this department,” Franco said. “We want everyone to have a platform to show off their work.”

The theater and dance department’s first show of the fall season, “The Cataract,” does not feature a single undergraduate actor, relying instead on a cast of graduate students and actors from the Austin community, Rodriguez said. The student-driven productions often feature very small casts or are composed of actors the directors already know well, he said.

Assistant dean of students Mary Beth Mercatoris said it is not unusual for student organizations to step in and provide opportunities where the departments do not.

“Frankly, we as administrators could not replicate in a year what student organizations do,” Mercatoris said. “The students come in with an incredibly sincere passion.”

Mercatoris said that students as passionate as Wicker, Franco and Rodriguez are able to elevate the dialogue on campus.

“Student organizations further the academic mission of the University,” she said. “They extend the educational curriculum.”

Rodriguez said he has high hopes for what Alpha Psi Omega can accomplish.

“We want to give students the opportunity to shine,” he said.

Printed on Thursday, Septemeber 13th, 2012 as: Theater society stages comeback, provides roles to undergraduates