Live theater returns to Niemeyer after 18 months off stage
Returning to the stage this month is Jim Eikrem: Director of Theater Arts at Clackamas Community College. After having to shut down live theater for more than a year due to COVID-19, Eikrem is determined to make this fall’s production a comeback, and to him, is exactly what everyone needs at this time. Eikrem was generous enough to sit for an interview with The Clackamas Print, to discuss his humble beginnings, upcoming shows, and the current state of the college theater program.
TCP: Who do you use as inspiration to teach your students and yourself?
Eikrem: When I was at New York University, I was very privileged to have very good faculty there. Particularly, a man named Ron van Lieu. Ron van Lieu really made me understand what acting and therefore theater could really be about, tapping into my person. Bringing my humanity to the fore in my acting was a big revelation to me. That’s what I like to impart to my students, he was very gentle and nurturing.
TCP: What do you currently have in production?
Eikrem: We do have a mainstage production this term. The play is called Private Eyes. It’s by a playwright named Steven Dietz. He calls it a comedy of suspicion. It is about two actors and a director and their interaction in a love triangle. We are only doing four performances, a Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:30 and a Sunday at 2:30. And we open on Nov. 18. Along with that, we have what we call our student performance showcase. The showcase consists of improv, I guess you could kind of say maybe a little bit like Whose Line Is It Anyway? Totally, totally improvised within certain structures. We’re doing those on Wednesday, Nov. 10, at 7:30, and Thursday, Nov. 11, at 7:30.
TCP: How is the theater handling COVID restrictions?
Eikrem: We are doing face to face classes, I’m thankful that the administration approved our return to campus plan. We’re all masked, we’re keeping six feet of distance in the rehearsal, as well as in the classes. We have an acting class, we have an improv class, we have a student-directed one act play, stand up comedy class, which Chris Whitten teaches, and then of course, the mainstage production. It’s very busy, very, very, very busy, long hours. But we’re adapting and that’s something about theater, it adapts.
TCP: What can the audiences expect upon return to the theater?
Eikrem: Fifty-seven is the maximum for the audience size. They must wear masks and must be six feet distant.
TCP: How do you keep your students engaged during times like these?
Eikrem: Trying to recognize the obstacles to their lives and their education, trying to be as gracious as possible, towards challenges that they’re facing, not only the students, but everybody who is working to try to make this thing work. My students want to be here, it’s very evident that they want to be here. My attendance is excellent, they’re hungry to do this. And I’m very pleased to be able to offer that.
TCP: What brought you to Clackamas from Central Michigan University?
Jim Eikrem: In 2002, I had been working freelance in the Portland area. I was teaching at a number of colleges, directing plays, acting in plays. It was sustainable, but not sustainable always. So I decided that I would try to see if I could get full time work at a university, which I did. I had to move to Mount Pleasant, Michigan for Central Michigan University. But all the while there, I kept looking at the ads, and I found that this position was opened at Clackamas Community College. I never taught here before getting the job. I applied and I was hired. I moved back to this area in 2012, and was shortly joined by my wife and my grown son.
TCP: What has teaching at Clackamas been like?
Eikrem: Well, it has given me much more opportunity to focus on things like directing. I very much enjoy this age in community college, there’s a lot more variety. My first term here, I had not only a lot of young people, probably 18, but also an 80 year old woman. It’s given me an opportunity to have a lot more control over what I teach with a student body that I very, very much appreciate.
TCP:What are your expectations for the college theater going forward?
Eikrem: Well, presumably, things will be at a point where the virus is no longer virulent, and as life threatening, and my hope is, it becomes normal for people to understand that they need to get a flu shot every year, and that, we treat it more like that, rather than this devastating pandemic that’s happening. If we can get back more to that, then we can see how our productions and our classes and everything if the school can return to what may be a more normal operation before the pandemic hit.
This interview has been edited for clarity and space.