As a multi-disciplinary theatre artist, Isaac Schoepp often has a lot to juggle — rehearsals as an actor or understudy, carpentry work in the scene shop, and checks of the circus rigging he installs. He works with theatres throughout the Chicago area, primarily with Lookingglass Theatre Company and The Actors Gymnasium. Fortunately for his employers, juggling is a skill at which he has had plenty of practice.
Isaac began juggling almost 25 years ago, after his dad taught him “on a lark,” he says. As Isaac’s skill improved, he and his siblings began performing at renaissance festivals, churches, and school assemblies. Their performance had a Lutheran bent, informed by Isaac’s father’s faith and experience working for the church. By the time Isaac was in fifth grade, the family was touring full-time as a juggling troupe.
Isaac stayed on the road through 2003, when he was accepted at Valpo. At that point, he thought his performance career was behind him. He enrolled as a Christ College student and began an exploratory major.
“I chose Valpo because it was a Lutheran school and I was interested in a liberal arts degree,” he says. “I thought I might study theology or history or English. I was happy to leave the nomadic lifestyle and the performing and figure out what I was interested in doing.”
As a freshman in Christ College, Isaac participated in the annual freshman theatre production.
“I was on the script committee,” he says. “I was really intrigued by the idea of creating an original work. It was so exciting to be in at the ground level of something, and because I had a fairly open schedule that semester, I was really able to throw myself into it. I ended up on the smaller committee that edited the script, and then I auditioned for a part and got it.”
“The whole process was very formative,” Isaac concludes. “It played a major role in my decision to be a theatre major and becoming interested in theatre as a career. Apart from that, some of the friendships that I formed during that time were very significant – I still consider those people some of my closest friends, and we probably wouldn’t have met otherwise, because we all had different majors.”
Isaac quickly got to know the show’s director, the late Professor John Steven Paul. Within the year, Isaac joined Professor Paul’s extracurricular drama troupe Soul Purpose.
Isaac credits the theatre program’s interdisciplinary nature with preparing him for work in all aspects of theatre.
“For me, it was extraordinarily helpful to work in the costume for a semester, to work in the scene shop for at least a semester,” he says. “Not only does it give you competence applying for work in multiple different arenas — I think it gives you a greater respect for the process of theatre as a whole and an understanding of what it takes to create it.”
Now, among many other professional roles, Isaac directs Christ College’s annual Freshman Production.
“I love seeing students go through the same process that was so important for me,” Isaac says. “It’s a great training ground for collaboration and the creative process in general.
“The people who started this tradition had the great insight that the process engenders creative problem solving and teaches students about resolving conflict.”
The interdisciplinary mission of Christ College, Isaac says, “neatly overlaps the theatrical endeavor. Christ College isn’t just for honors math or honors science or honors English – it will tackle any and all of those. Similarly, theatre relies on multiple skills. You need math to be able to design the lights and build the set. You need people that are good at design, people who are good at marketing, at public speaking – it’s a broad-ranging discipline.”
One of the most satisfying aspects of directing the Freshman Production, he says, is seeing how the ideas with which students are grappling in the classroom appear in their performances. It’s the beginning of a process, he says: “They slowly realize over the course of their time at Valpo that there’s always a connection between what you’re studying and your real life.”
CC Update – October 2015 – Isaac Schoepp, a 2007 graduate of Valparaiso University, has won a coveted Joseph Jefferson Award for Artistic Specialization in stage rigging design for “Moby Dick,” a production of Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre Company in association with the Actors Gymnasium. Given annually by The Joseph Jefferson Awards Committee to honor excellence in professional theatre produced in the immediate Chicago area, the Jeffs are often referred to as “Chicago’s Tony Awards.” The Jeff Awards have been committed to celebrating the vitality of Chicago area theatre since 1968.