A single aspect remained constant during the DSU Theater Showcase’s musical renditions, a capella performance and numerous anecdotes: tears from former theater professor Varlo Davenport’s supporters and old students.
Davenport’s termination Feb. 25 sparked student protests, an online petition and questions about what safeguards tenured faculty members have. With the showcase, held Monday at the DiFiore Center, Dixie State University theater students said they sought to create a venue to honor Davenport for his contributions to their educational experiences whether his time at DSU has ended or not.
Corinne Nelsen, a senior music major from Fallon, Nevada, organized the event. She said participants hoped to raise money for Davenport for his difficult time, but the main goal was simple — avoiding the tension his dismissal brought and focusing on his legacy.
“A lot of us were frustrated because all we could do to help was click and sign a petition or keep up on the news stories,” she said. “We just wanted to do more than that. I wanted a night where there was no anger, where we’re just here for Varlo and doing what we do best because of him: performing.”
An hour of performances headlined the showcase. Current and former DSU students sang notable songs from musicals and reminisced on times as Davenport’s pupils.
Serena Dabney, a sophomore theater major from Las Vegas, addressed Davenport, who sat in the front row with family, during her time on stage.
“Varlo, the things you have taught me in this time are invaluable to me,” Dabney said. “During [DSU’s] ‘Romeo and Juliet’ [production], you gave me the note to be a brat. Well, DSU faculty thinks I’m a lot more than that, so note taken. I will never forget the day you found my wall and broke it down.”
Theater students accounted for a bulk of those in attendance, but Davenport’s past collaborators and friends also sat on the DiFiore Center lawn.
Associate music professor Ken Peterson attended and said when he arrived at DSU in 2002, Davenport approached him and proposed a partnership between the music and theater departments in order to take advantage of the new facilities at the time.
“What ensued was 12 years of unprecedented work between music and theater,” he said. “We achieved amazing things together, and best of all, not only was the quality of the work wonderful; it was fun. The students loved it, and I loved it.”
Until Davenport’s termination, each new season brought high-quality productions distinct to DSU, Peterson said.
“Up to this point, my collaboration with Varlo Davenport has been the pinnacle of my work as the director in musical theater, and I am devastated that this is coming to an end,” he said. “It never occurred to me that it would.”
Davenport received numerous standing ovations by the showcase’s end, and afterward, attendees spoke with him and snapped pictures while eating baked goods and donating money. Davenport said “drama in a drama department” is nothing new, but his termination proved daunting — making him feel alone.
However, the showcase built upon support that made the last month a bit more bearable, he said.
“You face something like this and you really feel all alone, and you doubt yourself — question yourself,” Davenport said. “And then that first person cares enough to look you in the eyes and say, ‘Are you OK?’ To have that happen, now I want to be that person for other people because little gestures mean so much.”
Davenport said he still acknowledges the uncertainty of his future in southern Utah’s theater community. He said he longs to be back in his DSU office, but he just wants to play some role in the place he calls home.
“Good art breeds good art, and this is an exciting place to be, and I hope in some way I can continue to be involved,” he said. “I’m not sure what that’s going to end up being, but this will always be home. That red dirt that gets in your shoes, and you can’t get rid of it.”