What is home? Cal Poly’s original audio play, “Shelter,” invites listeners on a guided exploration of their own homes to discover the answer. This student-written, student-produced, fully virtual production debuted March 6 and is available on YouTube and Soundcloud, free of charge. 

“Shelter” is comprised of stories, monologues, and poems that invite the audience to move through their living space from room to room, take a seat at the kitchen table or on the edge of the bed and gaze out their windows, according to its director and creator, Professor Karin Hendricks-Bolen. 

Created amidst a backdrop of global quarantine at home, this single word “shelter” elicited an array of compelling interpretations that build the foundations of the show,  theater arts sophomore Maya Powell said.  

Inspired by the opportunity quarantine granted her to spend more time with family, Powell’s defined shelter as being grounded in the people she loves. 

According to Powell, rehearsals became a safe space that for the first time in a long time, gave her that feeling of theater that she  lives for — which the pandemic had suddenly ruled uncertain. 

“There was a lot of storytelling and just sharing life experiences,” Powell said. “It made us really close, and I think, made the show, really deep because we picked out the juiciest parts of it.”

Powell’s “Grandpa’s Orchid,” is, according to her, an “exposing and personal” piece, a combination of poetry and story straight from her heart. 

An open mind and willingness to follow the interactive requests from the show will enhance the audience’s experiences with both the show and their engagement with their own sense of shelter, Powell said. 

Outside of writing and acting, theater senior Bella Ramirez worked with the scenic design team on crafting art installations scattered throughout downtown SLO. Each promotional box is designed to encapsulate a cast member’s definition of shelter. Maps to these boxes can be found at Scout Coffee, according to Ramirez. 

“I haven’t really ever felt like I have a physical location that I call shelter for me,” Ramirez said. “It’s more about just the emotions that come with that sense of safety.”

Intrigued by the opportunity to fully immerse herself into every aspect of the creative process, Ramirez said she found the virtual show opened doors she never imagined existed. 

Entirely dependent on her voice with no access to theatre’s physicality was the best challenge, Ramirez said. 

“Not only did we get this opportunity to gain all these new skills we also got what we loved about theatre prior to all this craziness,” Ramirez said.  

As part of the associate sound design team, this show provided a unique opportunity for  interdisciplinary studies senior Mari Guitierrez to practically apply her skills. 

The process of sound design was collaborative with the actors, to ensure the final product communicated the intended messages, according to Guitierrez. 

“The actors did an amazing job writing and performing their pieces, the sound designs help bring all the pieces together, and the visual artists created some really cool pieces that can be seen around SLO,” Guitierrez said. 

Hendricks-Bolen was in the middle of moving out of her home amidst the pandemic, flooded with memories and emotions about the re-imagined season — of theatre and life — to come, she said. 

“[This house’s] walls witnessed years of good roommates and bad roommates, love and heartbreak, a cancer diagnosis, and a remission. Without intending to, I had built a deep relationship with this house,” Hendricks-Bolen said. 

This house provided so much beyond shelter, Hendricks-Bolen said, and this inspired her to investigate the complicated and rich connection to “home” and to provide an opportunity for our students to write and tell their unique stories that are especially timely as they  shelter at home.

The director deliberately placed the story in her cast, crew and designers’ living rooms to acknowledge and embrace the reality of the COVID-19 quarantine. 

“My hope is that placing Shelter in the audience’s home and making the audience member a part of the story will give back that basic element of a live theatrical play,” said Hendricks-Bolen.  

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