The Show Goes On
Jorgensen’s office, a closet-like room cluttered with all manner of books and props, is messy in an endearing way. During normal times, a slew of students would congregate outside his door, chatting and reading while waiting to meet with him. Today, it is quiet. A few students tinker with props in the workshop, a few colleagues wander around the green room and backstage. Everyone, of course, is masked. More than any one room, it seems that the entirety of Robsham Theater is Jorgensen’s office, community center, playground—he is at home here.
This has been a strange year for Jorgensen in many of the ways it has been a strange year for everyone. Shortly after he accepted the position of chair of the department he has worked in since completing graduate school at Northwestern 25 years ago, the COVID-19 pandemic brought just about everything to a halt. Still, he retains his sense of humor, joking about spending the past year indoors, bingeing TV shows, bulking up his quarantine belly, and thinking about finally getting around to gardening. But coming back to campus last fall, Jorgensen, his colleagues, and his students, were adamant about bringing theater back (safely) to the Heights.
“[Coming back this fall,] I was really committed [to the idea] that, if everyone did it correctly, we could make something,” he says. More so than the finished product, the journey is imperative to Jorgensen. “Make the thing,” he repeats, almost mantra-like. “Of course I want the show to be good. But for me,” he continues, “it’s so much more exciting to see a student develop and be able to experience that thrill when a show goes well and you just know you nailed it. Because it’s hard! There are so many moving parts to make that thing happen.”
Go backstage with BC’s Theatre Department Chair Luke Jorgensen ’91.
Experience can be a generous teacher. Since the pandemic upended campus life, Jorgensen and his team at Robsham Theater have proved willing pupils, adapting remarkably to the new normal. After putting on two productions in the fall, they built on their success by bringing another four plays to the stage this spring semester. They have found or created ways to make their safety adjustments work in favor of their art—for example filming their production of Twelfth Night and setting it during a plague (complete with a character donning a Renaissance plague mask), using a measuring stick to keep actors socially distanced during rehearsals, or even putting actors in individual sealed plexiglass boxes for a new play set during COVID (though Jorgensen jokes about the dubious legality of subjecting students to these innovations).
As for his students, he cannot speak highly enough of them and their commitment. “The students have really responded because this is so important to them. They have been so careful so that these productions can happen. I really admire them for that,” he says.
Jorgensen’s brief tenure as chair of the Theatre Department has certainly been saddled with its share of challenges, but he does not betray any signs of exhaustion. Rather, he seems genuinely excited—albeit with a healthy dose of caution—about producing the upcoming shows and teaching his classes. He says, “For me, the nature of doing theater is, ‘What’s the next project?’ You get to travel, in a sense—What’s the next world I get to live in with my students?”
Mementos and Miscellany from Luke’s Office
A gift from his PhD advisor, the sword sheathed behind Jorgensen’s desk was used to knight him upon earning his doctorate at Tufts.
“Thanks for giving this nerdy 13-year-old a home” ends the note inscribed in this copy of The Princess Bride from a former children’s theater actor who created the illustrations for this edition.
Jorgensen (front row, second from the left) poses with a candy cigarette, trying to look tough for this production of A Child’s Christmas in Wales.
This [robotic] chicken has been used in a lot of different shows, including musicals and being turned into a rat for King Stag. “It really wows the crowd,” Jorgensen swears.
Perhaps Jorgensen’s experience growing up in a theatrical home (his parents met in graduate school, where his mother studied acting and his father directing) accounts in part for his undeterred passion for theater after all these years. “Growing up in a dysfunctional, artistic family, theater was an outlet for me,” Jorgensen says. “My father [a theater professor at Stonehill College] passed away when I was 10, and theater became a great place for me to hide and develop. I think that made me really defensive of the kids I teach. I believe in making a safe space where they can be themselves.”
The students have really responded because this is so important to them. They have been so careful so that these productions can happen. I really admire them for that.
Luke Jorgensen ’91
It is easy to see how this upbringing informs his approach to teaching theater—from the kids he directed at the Tufts University children’s theater summer program for 25 years to the young adults he instructs at BC. Jorgensen often talks about theater as a laboratory, a kind of exploratory space. “Developmentally, I can’t think of anything more important,” he says. “It lets students try on different hats. You can practice different emotions and new situations.” Jorgensen has a deeply egalitarian sense of who and what theater is for, and it shines through in his words as much as his educational and creative decisions. He is firm in his belief that every college student—especially those studying in other fields—should be in a play or take an acting class, if only to learn how to talk in front of people. “I also hope we’re making theater fans,” he adds, “and that we’re opening them up to this world of understanding entertainment a little differently than before.”
When asked about his proudest career moment, his mind immediately goes to shows—the production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Noises Off, and Peter and the Starcatcher—before settling on a former student who had recently reached out to him. Now a physician, the student emailed Jorgensen a decade after taking Introduction to Theatre just to share how much he enjoyed the class. “There are a lot of people, I think, who see Robsham as home,” Jorgensen says, a contented smile curling across his face. “Hearing things like that,” he says, “makes up for the constant feelings of impostor syndrome—like, why do they let me do this? Like my brother says, ‘Yeah, you have a PhD, but it’s in clown school.’ And I say, ‘No! They don’t give a PhD for clowning.’’’
Bollywood Meets BC Football
While performing theater during a global pandemic was novel to Jorgensen, he is no stranger to trying new and unconventional things on the stage, and he encourages his students to do the same.
For the 2012 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a show he looks back on with immense pride, Jorgensen chose to set the play in a mythical colonial India, even enlisting the BC Bollywood dance troupe Masti in the roles of the faeries, reimagined as Indian deities. Interspersed throughout the show were bombastic dance sequences performed by elaborately costumed actors.
If that was not inventive enough, consider whom he cast as Oberon: the 6-foot, 6-inch, 300-pound former starting left guard for BC football, Nate Richman ’11, MBA’13. “He flat out deserved that part, too,” says Jorgensen.