Mourning Chico State theater professor
Disturbance in the force Like a lot of you, Arts DEVO woke up Tuesday morning to the very sad news that Chico State theater professor Katie Whitlock—someone I've referred to in this space as a “force in local theater”—had died at home on Monday (Dec. 7). She was only 45 years old. As of press time, no cause of death had been released.
As a frequent director of plays staged by the students of Chico State's Music and Theatre Department, Whitlock has been one of my all-time favorite local art makers, mainly for her propensity to take on challenging works and approach them in a fresh way, frequently incorporating very creative and dramatic sound elements and visual special effects, which were her specialties. Whitlock's most recent direction was for a well-received run of Aphra Behn's 17th-century comedy of manners, The Rover, at Harlen Adams Theatre in October. Other notable Chico State productions she's helmed include the zombie/Hamlet mashup, Living Dead in Denmark; the court case of Biblical proportions, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot; and an S&M-flavored update of the 400-year-old Revenger’s Tragedy.
But my favorite, and one that for sheer weirdness is one of the most impressive plays I've witnessed during my 12-plus years as arts editor, was Whitlock and company's 2008 production of Ubu Roi. It was one of the most satisfyingly surreal experiences I've ever had. The late 19th-century play by Frenchman Alfred Jarry caused outrage in its day, and as I wrote in a review, Whitlock pushed the envelope in every direction with her update:
“The cast was dressed with a Mad Max mix-and-match shabbiness, complete with knee pads, as they swarmed about the expansive set, and into the audience, and through a side door, and up through two heavy trap doors in the stage that slammed shut behind them. People drew graffiti on the walls and on the stage with chalk. A dizzy cartoon dog was projected in a loop on the wall. And the set was just astonishing. A two-stories-tall fireman's pole, the trap doors and large skateboard ramp that emptied a rollerblading, skateboarding cast onto the stage gave this hyper cast some impressive entry points into the fray. Facing it all were floor-to-ceiling walls made from wood pallets, the slats in which created impressive diffusion for a variety of back lights, providing a suitably shabby background for the play's kitchen-sink aesthetic. Awesome. It was experimental theater with a budget. … It's violent. It's weird. It's vulgar. It's hilarious.”
Whitlock earned her Ph.D. in theater history, literature and criticism at Ohio State, and came to Chico after teaching theater at OSU, as well as the Universities of Arizona, Memphis and Florida. According to a Chico State press release, in addition to her work in the theater department, Whitlock was an active scholar, with research that focused on “the intersections between performance and technology, with a particular interest in the nature of video games as the latest in a long line of interactive art forms.”
Whitlock's presence and passion will be missed by her family, students and the university, and the arts community of Chico has lost one of its most interesting and talented members. No memorial has been announced, but according to the university, one is being planned.
For the rest of you weirdos In the same adventurous spirit as Whitlock's outlandish productions, the CN&R's third annual Keep Chico Weird Talent Show and Art Show are coming Jan. 30 and 28-30, respectively. And the deadline for submissions is in less than a week! Visit facebook.com/keepchicoweird (or email email@example.com) for instructions and get your entries in by Dec. 16!