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Grinnell Artists: Sooji Son ’18


By Kelly Page

One of the biggest advantages of attending a liberal arts school is the ability to take classes across multiple curriculums. This has been an important part of Sooji Son ’18’s education as a computer science and theater and dance double major.

Before interacting with the theater and dance department at Grinnell, Son never thought she would major in that discipline. She viewed it more as an extracurricular activity that supplemented her focus on computer science.

“I started doing backstage stuff in high school,” Son said, adding with a laugh that the highlight of her high school theater career was working the spotlights that follow actors across the stage. “When I came to college I was interested in doing theater work, but not actually majoring in theater. But I met Professor Justin Thomas, [theater and dance], who convinced me to major in theater.”

Thomas’s strategy in convincing Son to major was persistence.

“He was always saying ‘it’s never too late to be a theater major!’” Son recalled.

Her experience crewing for the play “Anna Christie” her first year led her to try taking classes in theater, eventually choosing to major in it.

Of her experience pushing herself to try new things in the theater and dance program, Son said, “Everyone should take advantage of Grinnell’s liberal arts and take different classes, because I took a dance class that I never thought I would take and then that actually helped me broaden my perspectives a lot.”

Son is drawn to theater by the opportunity it provides to to work with others to create art.

“The reason why I got into theater is because it was a collaborative process, working with so many different people like actors, directors, choreographers and crew members, so at the end of each show I felt like it’s something we created together. So that’s what drew me into theater, because I like making art with many people,” she said.

Son has stage managed many shows throughout her time at Grinnell, from “The Boy Who Fell From the Roof” in 2015, to “The Laramie Project” in 2016, to the inventive and largely student-created production “The First Time I Walked On The Moon” in 2017.

Son also directed a one-act play this past fall called “The Universal Language” by David Ives. The play shows the interactions between a con artist, who teaches a fake language called Unamunda, and a woman with a stutter, who seeks to learn the language and then falls in love with him.

Additionally, Son has helped create many performance art pieces at Grinnell. Last semester she and Anh Thu Pham ’19, a fellow computer science major, created the interactive performance, “We’re All Vulnerable: Who Killed Tammy Zywicki ’92?” which explored the kidnapping and murder of Grinnell student Tammy Zywicki in 1992 as she drove back to campus on I-80.

“I made a performance about her disappearance and what it must have felt for her, so it was for a smaller audience, maybe like of two, three people,” Son said. “I try to — because I’m also a computer science major — connect technology with art, so I made a phone app to guide the audience through the performance because they have to be at multiple places, so that was interesting and fun.”

The performance guided the audience through a series of clues that led them to new locations, where they would experience different installations.

“We had it set from the basement of Bucksbaum, where all the storage is for the theater department, and then going around outside, in front of the box office and then to the loading docks. The audience was constantly on their feet moving around, trying to find the clues, but also they were just misled and led into these creepy corners. We had installations going on at each stop they had to go, and then hints they had to enter on their phone to get the next clue and whatnot, so it was a very interactive and audience-driven performance,” Son said.

Learning about computer science has helped Son beyond just giving her the skill to create apps to aid in performances. It taught her a way to solve problems that allowed her to be inventive in the way she uses technology in performance.

“Computer science is more, you kind of dig deeper into this problem, so they always talk about problem-solving skills, so I think I use that to do digital work. … [The class] Problem Solving Inquiries really helped me learn things on my own and then use that skill to do performances,” she said.

Son used the problem-solving skills that she gained in computer science to create a recent performance using projections.

“I recently had another installation performance thing where, it’s hard to explain, but there was a webcam for the performer and the audience, it was for an audience of one, and then the projections and video images got looped around so it was as if the audience was interacting with the performer even though they were in separate rooms. It was like exploring intimacy while being in a different room. I wanted to play with that mirage but also, like, what is the real you,” she said.

Immediately after graduation, Son will work in Silicon Valley, making a career in computers. However, she still wants theater to be a big part of her life.

“People say ‘oh, you’ll be making a lot of money in Silicon Valley,’ and that’s actually what I’ll be doing immediately after grad, but I always joke that’s, like, means of production. Just like, make money, stock up and do theater stuff on the side. I’m interested in looking for grad school or maybe other theater opportunities,” she said.

Sooji Son ’18, theatre and dance and copmuter science double major, has stage managed for multiple productions during her time at Grinnell. Photo by Helena Gruensteidl
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