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November 6, 2020

Transforming from Performer to Leader

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought changes and challenges to every sphere. Earlier this month, we took time to speak with Arts and Culture Management student Eric Prather, who has spent over 10 years in the arts and entertainment industry. With the onset of COVID-19, many theater and performance companies have closed shop until 2021, if not altogether. We talked with Eric to get his perspective on the changing theater landscape and what’s next. To learn more about Eric’s journey and how he is pursuing his education at University College, read on!

In a time when connection can be hard to come by given the current circumstances surrounding the global pandemic, Eric Prather is hoping art can bring people together – even if not physically.

“We need art as a means of connection and we need people to dedicate their lives to crafting those few perfect moments,” he said. And Eric has had his share of perfect moments in the performing arts world, from Chicago to Atlanta.

Originally from Colorado, Eric traveled to Chicago in 2006, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Theater and Acting from Columbia College.

“It was really wonderful,” he said. “After I graduated from college, I got to cut my teeth as a professional artist for some 10 years in Chicago.” While there, Eric called Redmoon Theatre home, performing in large-scale, site-specific, spectacle and pageantry style theater. After this experience, he turned to circus.

Working in outreach for the largest circus producer in the world, Cirque Du Soleil, Eric was part of a Social Circus program called Cirque Du Monde, which uses circus as a tool for social change, connecting social workers with at-risk youth to create impactful programming. Following the discontinuation of the Cirque Du Monde program in 2015, Eric found himself in Atlanta working in his own Social Circus: the MakeShift Circus Collective.

During this time, Eric’s largest project was called The Race Circus Project, serving as a circus documentary of sorts in which they used dialogue on race in Atlanta 50 years after the Civil Rights Movement as source material.

“I’ve never really heard of another circus organization doing any work like that and after it was filmed, we were able to distribute it to high schools as course material, it was really cool,” he said. “I think that social commentary, similar to that crafted in The Race Circus Project, is just one of the larger-scale impacts that art and theater have on our communities.” 

Along with many other full-time performers and artists across the country, Eric was left unemployed at the start of COVID-19, leading to the creation of virtual events. In addition to teaching directing, juggling, and technique, Eric and his colleagues shifted to virtual “flow festivals;” large-scale talent and art showcases that rely upon donations and invested audience members to keep them afloat. The biggest priority with these types of virtual festivals is attempting to create an immersive experience, accomplished through active online chats and even sending attendees letters in the mail to keep them engaged.  

“It’s tough knowing that in-person performances won’t return until sometime in 2021,” he said. “Art and performance really give creators a purpose, a source of dignity in their lives. When it was clear that in-person performances would be gone for the foreseeable future, I looked to broaden my skillsets to better serve my community.”

Broadening his skillsets meant enrolling in the Arts and Culture Management graduate program at the University of Denver’s University College. Following his departure from MakeShift Circus Collective, Eric landed back in Colorado, performing in a traveling Renaissance Festivals group, making it the perfect time to start at the University of Denver.

“Even before COVID, I always found that the leadership in arts organizations were a little disorganized,” he explained. “They were led by feeling, but lacked any strategic direction.”

With over 10 years of performance art and directing under his belt, Eric was looking to gain complementary strategic and theoretical knowledge, which he hoped could transform him from performer to leader.

“Instead of being just a performer, I can now expand my scope of services to the theater and performance communities,” he said. “As a white man, I feel it is partially my responsibility to create accessible and diverse organizations that serve the entirety of the community. From a leadership perspective, I am looking forward to helping build long-lasting and equitable organizations that can be passed on for generations.”

Eric is currently enrolled MALS 4480 Arts and Culture: Best Parties and Practical Skills and MALS 4281 Event Planning and loves the incredible diversity among his peers, the ability to reframe thought processes from practical to strategic, and having the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong goal of earning a master’s degree. Eric is looking forward to getting back to his work as the Assistant Artistic Director at The MOTH in Denver, where he hopes to continue creating perfect moments as a performer and leader.

Learn more about the The Race Circus Project and watch the production here.

Article written by Megan Brogdon, University College Marketing Coordinator

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