Patti & Rusty Rueff School of Design, Art, and Performance Department of TheatreCollege of Liberal Arts

Theatre Students Respond to COVID-19 Obstacles

Against all odds, Boilermakers rally to deliver laughter, energy, and affirmation with "Bonnets (How Ladies of Good Breeding are Induced to Murder)"


Post show, Rachel Dexter and Alexandria (Ally) Shinkan smiled for a quick photo outside the Mallett Theatre. Shinkan portrayed Bonnet #7/Mrs. Wolcott. The bonnet was a project for Dexter’s millinery class this semester. (Photo provided.) Post show, Rachel Dexter and Alexandria (Ally) Shinkan smiled for a quick photo outside the Mallett Theatre. Shinkan portrayed Bonnet #7/Mrs. Wolcott. The bonnet was a project for Dexter’s millinery class this semester. (Photo provided.)

“There are no new worlds! There are no new ages! There is just the same old disaster running on loop, and you can either master it or it will master you.”

Those words, nearly an hour into Purdue Theatre’s production of “Bonnets (How Ladies of Good Breeding are Induced to Murder)” resonated Thursday night as the cast filled the Carole and Gordon Mallett Theatre with foot stomping, defiant energy.

Little more than 48 hours before the show began, Purdue students collectively paused to read an email they had been expecting. From President Mitch Daniels and Provost Jay Akridge, it confirmed that after spring break, classes will move online and events for over 50 people are suspended March 16 - May 2.

“It means no “Bonnets,” Emma Poor said softly. The cast member and College of Liberal Arts junior was still processing what the message meant about the show, part of the Big Ten Theatre Consortium’s New Playwrights’ Initiative. The play by Jen Silverman was scheduled to open on March 27.

Later on Wednesday, the story began to change. The students decided their show would indeed go on.

It was a relief to Rachel Dexter, a fifth year senior who designed Bonnet #7, one of the show’s 11 bonnets, as part of a millinery class. It meant the bonnet would be on display as intended, in front of an audience. With uncertainty around whether she will walk across the stage to receive her diploma, Rachel shared that it is her mother who is most disappointed. “I’m the youngest, and I will be the first to graduate from a school as prestigious as Purdue.”

Thursday morning at 10:30 a.m., lighting had not yet been designed for the show. Junior Brady Alumbaugh went to work. Rather than programming a light board, he worked the show live less than 12 hours later. A cast member said the first run through rehearsal with lighting and sound happened earlier in the evening.

The show was billed as an open rehearsal. It played to a full house of students, faculty, and staff, gathering for perhaps the last time this semester.

The all-female cast filled the theatre with laughter, energy, and an affirmation that like the characters they portrayed, they, too, had agency. Their show would not fall victim to coronavirus.

Friday morning, Poor said, “I don’t think it’s hit me yet that it’s done.”

There’s been a lot of talk about grit at Purdue this year. One of five pillars of the Steps to Leaps initiative, grit points to developing strategies to overcome challenges. With the remainder of the semester, an upcoming production, and a traditional Purdue commencement hanging in the balance, grit was on full display in the Mallett Theatre Thursday night.

And it wore a bonnet.

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