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WC alumni, twins theatre careers put on hold during pandemic

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The stage has changed of late, but for the Salazar twins, Damek and Derek, the show will go on again, someday. And when it does, they will be ready.

The 2012 Weatherford College graduates have both gone on to careers in live theatre. Damek is a scenic carpenter for Casa Manana in Fort Worth and Derek is a part-time production carpenter at TCU while working on his Master of Arts in Theatre from Texas Women's University.

"I build and load scenic elements mostly,” Damek said. “Other aspects of the job are routine maintenance, like building shop tables or a new tool shelf, as well as helping with fundraisers and award ceremonies that we hold every year.”

"My job consists of working with the scenic studio supervisor and technical director on drawings to build whatever they give me,” Derek said. “Occasionally I’ll work with the students and lead them on projects.”

Following graduation from WC, the brothers went on to receive their bachelor’s degrees from McMurry University in Abilene in 2014. Both have a degree in acting with a focus on directing, while Damek also minored in musical theatre.

Currently, however, they are awaiting a return to their respective careers as the COVID-19 pandemic has shut down live theatre.

"If the basis for everything you do depends on gathering 500 or so people and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and WHO (World Health Organization) don’t allow you to do that because it’s dangerous, then you’re in quite a pickle," Damek said.

"I can’t build a show that might not happen as a result of the pandemic," Derek said. "Many theatres, educational and commercial, are freezing their seasons, hoping to hold out until things go back to normal. Classes are on a computer screen rather than in a classroom. It’s hard to teach an acting class through a computer rather than a studio.

"I think it presents a challenge, but it’s something that theatre will overcome. I’ve seen many of my educator friends find creative solutions to their problems and that’s all they can do—be creative and overcome."

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Some theatres, such as Fort Worth's Stage West, have turned to social media to stream shows during this time. Many theatres record performances for such things as self-reviewing, and recordings that were made before the shutdown are being streamed.

Damek said such technology could even change the way some people watch theatre beyond the pandemic.

"If a theatre could afford to actually set up something so people could view a local musical or play from the comforts of their couch that could change how the majority of theatres conduct business tremendously," he said.

A shared highlight of their careers is both receiving awards at the prestigious Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival at Angelo State Festival. Damek's was for original music composition/recording and Derek's was for meritorious achievement in scenic design. They both worked on original music for the one-act play "W" as well, winning awards.

And both credit their time at WC as being heavily instrumental in the direction they took with their careers.

"I learned what it means to have a good work ethic and how far that can get you. It would be easy to just dream about the career I want to have, but only you can push yourself to make that dream a reality," Derek said. "That’s what I started to learn at WC with Nancy (McVean, now retired theatre professor), then furthered at McMurry, and then kept learning and still learn in my career. Hard work pays off."

Damek said WC was a big step in taking what was once a hobby and turning it into a profession where he can provide for himself and his family, something of which he's extremely proud.

"I believe that life takes you where you belong. My time at WC confirmed that belief because it pulled me towards theatre, where Nancy McVean wrangled me and my brother into the department," he said. "Without her doing that I wouldn’t be where I am today."

Like so many other things they have shared in a close life, their favorite memory of WC was being part of the annual traveling kids show that went around to area schools.

"The imagination of children is an extraordinary thing. There’s just something so pure and innocent in seeing a child’s reaction to a show. It’s wonderful," Damek said.

"It was a great time and we would have fun entertaining the kids before the shows by juggling or pretending to juggle with our eyes closed," Derek said. "Most of the time kids didn’t buy it, but that’s what made it fun."

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Currently, they are working on a musical together about Pluto. They also have a band and have written some songs they're waiting to record and release.

"We’ve got some ideas down, but it’s still in the early stages so we won’t put it out there until sometime down the road," Damek said.

Derek added, "It’s kinda hard to work on songs when there is a pandemic and we have to stay away from each other."

Coronavirus or not, they share a belief, as does virtually everyone in the industry, that live theatre will always have a place in society.

"I feel live theater is important to a society because of the connection with the community. It inspires youth to go into creative outlets and tell their own stories," Derek said.

"Telling stories is always going to be the lifeblood of society. Live theatre is one of many outlets that provide stories to tell," Damek said. "It’s society’s job to listen to all these vastly different stories of people with drastically different backgrounds and languages and experiences and learn from it."

Ultimately, they each said opening their own live theatre could be in the future.

"I know that there is a tremendous amount of work that goes into running a theatre company, so we’ll see if it’s still something we want to do in the future,” Damek said. “If not, I think anything, where we could get to work together professionally in any aspect, would be awesome.”

"Damek and I have talked about starting our own theatre, and that’s still on the table," Derek said. "What I’ve learned about theatres is that they are like boats—anyone can build one, but keeping it afloat is the difficult part."

by Rick Mauch

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