Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Crimes of the Heart update

This weekend we are going into tech rehearsals for Saint Michael's College fall mainstage, Crimes of the Heart! Written by Beth Henley and set in Mississippi in the '70s, the play is a dark comedy about three sisters reuniting in the face of their grandfather's illness and a family scandal. Katelyn Brisson stars as Meg for her senior showcase; sophomore Kit Rivers and first-year Evyn Whiteley are featured as Lenny and Babe, the other sisters. The supporting cast is a great mix of students, especially first-years. I have been continually impressed so far this semester by our freshman class in the theater program!

For Crimes of the Heart, I've been working on a variety of projects. Officially I am the assistant scenic designer, the props master, and the master electrician. I have been hunting props for the most part: digging through the Klein basement, where our props storage is, shopping for the strangest combination of things, and doing small projects like outfitting my bulletin board with hooks and fixing spindles on kitchen chairs. We also have a fair amount of consumable food in the show, which means the people at Shaws have gotten very familiar with my face (or hair) and eccentric purchases. Props has definitely taken up most of my time in the past few weeks and has been pretty stressful-- if only I didn't have classes and homework to worry about as well!

This is the set about a week ago...coming along!
There are 2 classes that meet during the week to build the set and hang lights, and for the past month I've been coming in to work with all of them. The work study students have also been a huge presence in the shop this fall, which is great. Some of the projects I've been given during those times include wiring and hanging the ceiling fan, putting in wall scones and pendant lights, building walls, and helping the lab kids figure stuff out.

I had excellent help with the ceiling fan.
John Devlin is one of the most patient people I know! I can't imagine having to explain things over and over to students who sometimes only care about the credits. This semester's classes have gotten pretty invested in the process, however, which is very exciting to see. The play opens next Wednesday, Nov. 2nd at 7pm and runs through Saturday, Nov. 5th. Admission is free and open to the public, as always. Hope to see you there!

Monday, October 24, 2011

American Shakespeare Center at Saint Mike's

Last Thursday, Saint Michael's College welcomed the American Shakespeare Center's Almost Blasphemy tour for an afternoon performance of Midsummer Night's Dream. The company comes every year to UVM and St. Mike's, and students flock to see the shows. The ASC performs in the style of Shakespeare's time, as much as possible, with a thrust stage, contemporary music pre-show, and with all the lights on.

The ASC's A Midsummer Night's Dream features 9 professional actors and 2 acting interns. I attended a workshop Thursday morning with some of the actors as a part of my Shakespeare class with Professor Nick Clary, which was a great chance to meet the cast and the troupe manager/assistant director Glenn Schudel and ask them some questions. We learned a lot about their rehearsal process, which is different from a typical theater schedule: rather than starting out with the director assigning ideas from the start, the ASC cast gets together and has a day to put the play together with all of their ideas-- the bigger, the better-- and from there the play gets toned down or worked out by the director and the artistic director.

The play itself was, as expected from the ASC's comedies, side-splitting. Myself and some friends sat onstage and enjoyed the different perspective; the recital hall was nearly full. They had performed the other 2 shows in current repertoire at UVM the weekend before: 'Tis a Pity She's a Whore and Winter's Tale, which I am sorry to have missed. 

Afterward, a veritable host of theater students stayed to help the company load out, despite the fact that they are completely self-sufficient. Professor Nick Clary of the English department has seen the ASC tour at Saint Michael's for the past 20 years and extended his gratitude and love for the work at a presidential dinner post-show, which several of his classes had the pleasure to attend. It was a great experience meeting the cast and learning more about them, especially for those of us who may be doing similar things for years to come!

2011/12 Almost Blasphemy Troupe (Clockwise from Top Left): Kevin Hauver, Rick Blunt, Ronald Peet, Stephanie Holladay Earl, Patrick Earl, Bridget Rue, Michael Amendola, Jake Mahler, Denice Mahler, Eugene Douglas, and Daniel Stevens.  Photo by Michael Bailey.

The company was in town for a few days, during which time we saw them a few times and gave some local sightseeing advice. They are currently in Canton, NY, and I may be taking a road trip up there (weather depending) to see the other plays we missed out on! For more information on the American Shakespeare Center's annual tour, visit their touring page here. Several of the actors keep blogs as they travel: check out Michael Amendola's blog here

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Saint Michael's College Theatre Department

This fall, Saint Michael's Theatre Department is producing Crimes of the Heart, a dark comedy by Beth Henley. It performs in the beginning of November and, as always here at St. Mike's, admission is free.

I'll write more about the play itself when we get closer to showtime. For now, an update on the production side of things and a look at how St. Michael's College gets things done. While over the summer the professional summer stock company St. Michael's Playhouse hires interns and professionals to design and create the set, props, and costumes, during the school year the academic shows work a little differently.

We have one professor in charge of all elements technical (excepting costumes): John Devlin, Associate Professor of Fine Arts, and my advisor. During the school year, he supervises several lab classes in the scene shop made up of students who come in, often knowing nothing about carpentry or lighting, to work for credit. He is also usually the scenic and lighting designer on the mainstage performances, unless a competent student is interested in designing. There are also design and history classes available with John. For an update on the scenic elements of Crimes of the Heart, please visit the department blog.

Peter Harrigan, Professor of Fine Arts and head of the Theatre Department, usually undertakes costumes for the mainstage productions, which involves a lab setup similar to the scene shop lab, only with costumes. He also teaches costume crafts, theatre history, and intro. to theatre. Every other semester, Peter directs the mainstage production, and this semester he is the director for Crimes of the Heart.

Another professor in the Theatre Department is Cathy Hurst, Professor of Fine Arts. She teaches acting, directing, and several specialty courses in both of those fields, in addition to directing every other mainstage season (alternating with Peter). Cathy also spends a lot of time with her duties as the Co-Chair of the New England region for ACTF, the American College Theatre Festival, a big event in January that colleges send students to every year. Plans and preliminary rehearsals for the spring mainstage, APP-etite, are underway as well.

As you can imagine, our faculty has a lot on their plates! This power trio produces two mainstage productions every year, one per semester. I've noted throughout my time here that other places do more shows, probably a result of more faculty members and greater funds. Cathy, John, and Peter have to work extremely hard as it is to give each of us a personal learning experience, not to mention put in extensive time in rehearsal, production meetings, and labor for each of the productions.

Other theatre opportunities at Saint Michael's College include getting involved with the Drama Club, which hosts numerous events, trips, and performances throughout the year, including a 24-hour play festival, a mentor program, and most currently a haunted house! Also coming up, auditions for the directing class scenes this Friday: anyone can try out and the rehearsals are less intensive than the mainstage schedule. There are also classes offered through the English department: Shakespeare, First-Year Seminar Drama & Culture, and more!