Mr. Z provides perspective on theater program

Ball State grad notes sense of trust, welcome


Caroline Steiger

With microphone in hand, Mr. Tristan Zavaleta led the singing at the multicultural assembly earlier this school year.

Andrew de las Alas, Reporter

The world of theater is ripe with a slew of activity. Light crews shuffle overhead, perfecting the finishing elements of a scene, artistic crews create sets that immerse the audience, and actors pour heart and soul into their character. The theater department allows students of all kinds to fully embrace this kind of atmosphere. 

Mr. Tristian Zavaleta, or “Mr. Z,” started his position as theater director at the beginning of this school year. Zavaleta graduated from Ball State University with a major in theater education, and he heard about the job opening here from a family friend. Zavaleta said, “I was ready to give up looking (for a job) and right when I thought it’d be over, there was an opening.” 

Prior to college, Zavaleta developed an appreciation for theater at Guerin Catholic High School in Noblesville. “I was involved in almost every production since freshman year,” he said. Working as a cast member, director and writer, Zavaleta said, “I found my niche.”

Initially. Zavaleta said, “I didn’t really know what to expect. Every department is different, every school is different, especially in terms of what they have and what they can do.” Similar to many new students, Zavaleta said that there was just a special something that seemed to permeate and make the school on the Hill stand out from the others. 

Over the course of three interviews and a tour of the theater, Zavaleta said he found many of the faculty and students already involved in the department “warm and supportive.”

Zavaleta said that he was also momentarily worried how students would perceive “the new theater director” and some of the additions and changes he was prepared to make. Zavaleta said that it turned out to be “an easy adjustment and everyone was so welcoming and excited for what we could do. There was an immediate trust and welcome.” 

The positive sense of community is a particular aspect that Zavaleta seeks to emphasize, and has been working with students to help spread awareness of all the activities the department puts on. This sense of familiarity is echoed by Zavaleta’s adopted name: Mr. Z.

In addition to the fall play and spring musical, students have a slew of options to choose from if they’re interested in the performing arts. 

The rookie show is a low-pressure play for complete beginners, and Zavaleta said that he’s working to produce more improv shows and cabaret shows for next semester. Zavaleta said that there are all kinds of ways to induct yourself into theater. “It’s not just about singing in front of a million people. There are other, less anxiety-inducing options,” he said. 

The success of “Charlotte’s Web,” “Radium Girls” and other smaller productions have encouraged Zavaleta, who explained that at some schools, there are only enough students and resources for one production a semester. 

 Recently Zavaleta’s independent study class, made up of seniors Ashley Lay, Anne Leppert and Natalie Rypel, staged a different type of cabaret. Switching the gender of the singer and a song was given as an option by Zavaleta but he said, “I can’t really take credit for it. They performed an opening number, organized auditions and directed rehearsals.” 

Leppert and Lay said in an email that they were initially nervous about a new faculty member because of the relationship they had formed with the former director. These hesitations were relieved quickly, however. 

Lay said that she trusted department chair Mr. Michael Moffatt when he announced that someone who would be a good fit for the role, and that he was right. Leppert said that Zavaleta always works to constantly improve quality until the show is completely over. 

Off stage, Zavaleta is working to increase publicity around the department. A lobby display was crafted for the fall play, “Radium Girls,” and the display case will later be used to highlight news from the department. Senior Gwen Hansen created a website for the play as well. A few days before opening night, Zavaleta received 5,000 business cards that were passed out to students as quickly as time allowed. Zavaleta said that he wants to take advantage of the resources available “to make the community more aware of what we’re doing.”

Zavaleta said, “I never really wanted to be an actor or director” but that he “wanted to work in theater education from the beginning.” Creating an environment that fosters this level of creativity is incredibly important, and there are valuable communication and cooperation skills to be gained. 

Zavaleta said that theater was “defining” for him when he was in high school, and that he believes theater “helps others realize more about themselves and become better people. It gives you a place to belong.”

To any student who is interested in theater, Zavaleta urges them to come out and give it a try. He said, “Give it a chance. You don’t want to get to the end of senior year and regret an essential experience.” In some cases seniors may perform for the first time and then wish that they had been involved in the last four years. 

“Don’t regret it,” Zavaleta said.