Shakespearian soliloquies, mind-bending avant-garde pieces and large musical numbers all take their places with the Independent Student Production Companies at the School of Dramatic Arts, but Impulse Theatre Company is the only ISP company that focuses wholly on contemporary realism.
“Studying journalism, that was really interesting to me—a play being something that’s drawn from real life,” said Heather Mimikos (BA Narrative Studies and Journalism ’26), one of Impulse Theatre Company’s two vice presidents. “Looking at current events and highlighting different identities—it’s not that other types of theatre don’t do that, but I think contemporary realism provides a space where different identities can be more present.”
Celebrating identity and promoting inclusivity is also a major focus for Impulse Theatre Company. When the group was created in 2017 by School of Dramatic Arts students Mekhala Bijawat (BA Theatre ‘20) and Jack Elleto (BA Theatre ‘20), they envisioned a student-run company which could “fill in the gaps of contemporary realism, inclusivity and open casting in our community.” Inclusivity is reflected in the membership of Impulse Theatre Company, whose board consists of SDA and non-SDA students alike, as well as several international students, comprising a diverse perspective brought together by a passion for making great theatre. “We look for people who are really dedicated and passionate, not just about theatre, but also about working with others and making a really welcoming creative space for everybody,” Katie Klaskin (BA Acting ’26), the other vice president of the group, said. “We really want to make sure that the people that we have representing the board are dedicated and passionate, but also kind, good human beings who want to make great theatre with other people.”
One advantage of putting on contemporary realist pieces independently is that it gives students a chance to produce work they have practiced in the classroom. In Fall 2023, Impulse Theatre Company produced Ruby Rae Spiegel’s play Dry Land, a story about high school girls dealing with an unplanned pregnancy. It was a piece that many School of Dramatic Arts students had studied in class, and one that, due to the ages of the characters, dealt with serious subject matter the students could relate to. “Even though the subject sounds really heavy—and at times, it is—we really liked the play because there are such brilliant moments of comedy and truth that you get to see,” Klaskin said. “Especially with the two main characters being high school students, we found it super relatable and authentic to the female experience particularly.”
Performed in early December, Dry Land was one of the final shows ever performed in the School of Dramatic Arts’ iconic Massman Theatre. Members of Impulse Theatre Company understood and appreciated the opportunity to produce one of the final performances in the space.
“I think we felt really privileged to have that opportunity to kind of close out the Massman,” Klaskin said. “We had a great turnout. People really enjoyed it.”
Theatre kids at heart
Conforming with the group’s value of inclusivity, plays are selected in the Spring (for production in the Fall) via an open call for pitches. Any USC student, SDA-affiliated or not, can pitch a production, explaining why they think the material is important and how they would go about producing it as a director. Once the plays are selected, the group spends the summer and into the Fall producing the work independently—in the tradition of ISPs on campus, leaning on students for every aspect of the production. Board members hope that, as contemporary realist pieces, the material will speak to USC students and the SDA community.
“They give us a budget and timeline, but also talk about why they think the show is important, not only for everybody to see, but for the SDA community specifically,” Klaskin said.
Klaskin and Mimikos commented that ISPs like Impulse Theatre Company tend to provide a sense of community, being entirely student-run and done sheerly for the joy of creating theatre.
“I think the way that ISPs are structured, where it’s up to you to decide how much you want to commit to it, and when you want to commit to it, you get these people who want to be there all the time because they’ve made the commitment,” Klaskin said. “You get to work with these people who really want to be there, and you also get to make these amazing friends.”
“I really appreciate ISPs in that regard, because it allows me, a theatre kid at heart, to be involved in that space,” Mimikos said. “It’s very encouraging that students from all disciplines can join.”
The members of the Impulse Theatre Company emphasize creating an inclusive space for acting majors and non-acting majors alike to celebrate their love of contemporary realist theatre. They encourage students who are on the fence to get involved and not be intimidated by not being affiliated with the School of Dramatic Arts. All that’s required is a love for theatre.
“We want you to join,” Klaskin said. “It shouldn’t be intimidating. We always want cast members, we always want crew, we always want board members. It’s not an exclusive space by any means.”
“I think we enjoy it so much because we love who we work with. We want to be there,” Mimikos said. “Impulse is like family.”