What Is It Like To Be A Theatre Student at WSU?
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Week of February 19: Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival
The members of the Weber State University Theatre Devised Piece, which was directed by Tracy Callahan and presented at the 2016 KCACTF festival in Hawaii
If you know anything about college theatre then chances are you’ve heard about the Kennedy Center American Theatre Festival. For those of you who don’t know, the festival is a regional festival where college students get the chance to show off and compete with what they have created. In the words of Riley French who attended the festival as part of WSU’s devised theatre piece, “KCACTF is an all you can eat buffet for theatre. There are classes, performances, and auditions you can attend. There is always something you can do!”
Of these opportunities the most well known is the Irene Ryan competition. This contest is an elimination style acting tournament with students from every college in our region preparing acting pieces to present to judges for the chance to win the Irene Ryan scholarship. One student, Seth Foster and his partner Liz Hernandez were fortunate enough to be able to move onto the final round of the competition. The one thing that Seth commented on over everything else was the support that he received from the other competitors around him. “Everyone was so encouraging and supportive of the other scenes. It was remarkable how we all just loved what we got to do, and experience that together.“ The sentiment is obviously held by the other students who attended the festival. Liz Hernandez was quoted in saying, “I don't think we really understood how lucky we were until the finals performance, and we were sitting backstage with the other 15 finalists and their partners. They were all so talented and I think the best part was that no one was rude, everyone was supportive to each other.”
There are far too many things to cover in this article, but quality of the experience that should not be missed. Cory Thompson went with a scene from the production of “9 Circles.” He had this to say: “9 Circles was incredible to perform for the last time. I've been preparing for the role since about March-Aprilish last year, so being able to end the run of a character for theater people who really got the show was great.” The festival has just as many opportunities for technical students as well, William Peterson, who presented his lighting design for “9 Circles” had this to say about the festival, “The festival was a wonderful opportunity to learn from and admire the performances, designs, and research of peers in colleges across the western United States.” If you ever have the opportunity to take part in KCACTF it is an experience that any theatre person will tell you that every year presents unique and insightful opportunities for theatre people of every angle.
February 8: "The King of the Yees"
One of the greatest responsibilities of a theatre person is to stay up-to-date on what is being done in the theatre world. The theatre students here at Weber State University have instructors who not only want that for their students, but are actively involved in introducing them to upcoming shows and playwrights. The most recent of which is Lauren Yee, author of “The King of the Yees” which was recently staged at the internationally recognized Goodman Theatre in Chicago. The show emphasises the importance of family and heritage through the relationship of Lauren to her father and Chinatown as a whole. The show has the style of a bizarre farce that, in the end, gives you an important and compelling message of love and family that transcends generations.
These play readings are sponsored by the Dean’s office and put together by Dr. Jenny Kokai, the head of playwriting and dramaturgy at WSU. “I started the play reading series as a way to introduce Weber State students to nationally recognized contemporary playwrights from across the country. We get to read plays hot of the stages of major theatres from the best new playwrights.” says Kokai, but she takes it one step farther with this experience. At the end of the play readings the students are given the opportunity to have face to face interaction with these esteemed playwrights over skype.
As a theatre person there is nothing more exciting than the opportunity to ask a professional about their work. according to Riley French, a student at WSU and aspiring playwright, “it allows for a more casual conference style interaction where more questions can be answered. The playwright talked about the development process of her piece in Chicago, which showed how your piece can change depending on the demographic of the audience” This is a rare and fascinating privilege for the students of Weber State that we hope to see continue for quite some time to come and I encourage anyone who has not taken advantage of this to do so at the next play reading. The play that will be read is “Conflict House” by Steve Moulds on February 26th at 3:30 PM. Come enjoy some cookies and an educationally enlightening experience.
Week of January 30: "Robert “Scott” Smith: The Yes Man"
With the announcement that Tracy Callahan would be taking a semester long sabbatical, most students were left wondering who would take over while she is away. The answer came in the form of Robert “Scott” Smith. With twenty-eight years of experience under his belt, along with a BFA from University of Utah and an MFA from The Old Globe/University of San Diego along with being Co-Artistic director of his own theatre company, “Flying Bobcat Theatrical Laboratory,” Smith seems perfectly qualified to take over for Callahan while she is away. But longevity does not necessarily mean quality in the theatre industry. Is Smith a good fit for the department and students alike? I had the opportunity to ask Smith about his approach to theatre.
I began by asking Smith what he believes to be unique about himself that would make him a valuable resource to the department. “I'm a working actor. With that comes my experience and observations of what is currently being asked of Actors in the rehearsal, in the auditions, and in the business. It's now!... I've also been an ongoing reader for auditions with PTC, and Salt Lake Acting Company so I'm in the room with the Directors, Producers, and auctioneers and have a unique perspective and what's working and what's not. An insider view to the auditioning process. Another unique thing is that I'm creating original devised work with Flying Bobcat, my company. This adds another element to our profession and sharing those insights to help Actors find a way to create their own work.” So far Smith has made a good case for himself in the department. There is still one aspect that needs to be explored. The students and his work with them so far.
One of the most important things about a theatre teacher is their approach to the craft. I believe that Smith has just the kind of approach that most students would appreciate. “Just say YES! I'm focused on helping a student actor find a way in…” This style is particularly helpful to beginners and veterans of the theatre alike, allowing openness and expression without the need to “perform.” Speaking of students, I asked Smith what his experience with the student body has been like so far. “It's been a wonderful experience working with my current students because they want to be there and are willing to say yes. Without that commitment then I have nothing to offer them in return. We've been focused on being present and not 'performing' (putting on a voice) and using music as a vehicle to find a way in first. Then moving on to found text and focusing in how to play an objective, and making sure we are playing clear tactics.” The positive response to Smith has been practically unanimous from students in the department as well, saying that he is a relaxed, but knowledgable and interesting professor. So, everyone give a big welcome to Robert “Scott” Smith. A welcome and appreciated mentor to the students of Weber State’s Theatre department.
Week of January 25
"35MM: A Musical Exhibition"
While all of the other students were off this winter enjoying their break one cast was working through the whole thing. The musical “35MM”, directed by Mandie Harris with musical direction by Kyle Lawrence, is a unique musical that has no plot whatsoever, but is meant to reflect the captured moments of life. These moments range from the dark and dangerous to the light and happy. The show features musical numbers that range from solos and duets to a complex Latin chant with complex harmonies.
“35MM” is this year's second AAT show. This means that these shows were produced almost entirely by students with guidance from their professors. That means that the set, the lighting and all other aspects of the show were designed and put together by the student designers. This show is a wonderful example of the skill and resourcefulness of the Weber State theatre students. The show will be housed in the Eccles Theatre from February 2nd to the 6th.
Just to give you a better idea of what “35MM” is about we have an interview from Mandie Harris, the director of the show and Kyle Lawrence the show’s musical director.
What would you say makes “35MM” unique?
Mandie-“It is very unique in that there’s no dialogue at all… So we’ve got these stories that are really important slices of people’s live, so they’re held together like a piece of film is when developing it. What you do to the strip affects the whole thing.
Kyle-”It is a rock opera. which is not done around here very often… It’s a series of songs that all relate to each other through photographs by Walter Murphy. We have live music and it’s a type of show we don’t usually do at Weber State.
Have you had any challenges in the process that you weren’t expecting?
Mandie-”To be honest, it’s been pretty much what I expected… maybe that it’s a lot of behind the scenes work. Making the little pieces come together.”
Kyle-”Not necessarily that I wasn’t expecting them. It is very difficult music. There’s a lot of layered harmonies. The vocal production is particularly different… The actors are not as familiar with.”
Why do you think people should come see “35MM”?
Mandie-”It is a beautiful piece about a variety of human experience… We’ve got love, but we’ve got loss. We’ve got LGBT issues and abuse, but you don’t feel like you’re getting hit over the head with it.
Kyle-”To be honest every song, I’ll be thinking “Oh! this is my favorite song.” and then the next one happens and I’m like, “But I really like this one”... It’s a type of show we don’t usually do at Weber State.”
Week of January 20
We are only a week into the semester and students are already working hard with rehearsals and personal projects. The semester will begin with a student directed project from A.A.T. “35MM: A Musical Exhibition” directed by Mandie Harris and Music direction from Kyle Lawrence. The show is described as, “a collection of "snapshot stories" woven together, through pop-rock music and amazing projection images.” on the official A.A.T. 35MM Facebook page. This show will be put on in the Eccles black box theatre from February 2nd-6th. The next big show in the season will be “Nice Work If You Can Get It” Directed by the Head of the musical theatre area Jim Christian with music direction by Bradley Vieth, The shows score is comprised entirely of music by George and Ira Gershwin. A hilarious high spirited comedy about bootleggers during the prohibition and all the wild romance you could hope for. The show will be housed in the Allred theatre and runs from February 26th-27 and March 1st-5th Finally, our department's final show of the season will be “The Tempest” Directed by Jenny Kokai, the head of dramaturgy and theater education. This is the final play of the one and only William Shakespeare. It is the story of betrayal and revenge as a sorcerer named Prospero causes a great tempest to wash ashore the men who took his kingdom away from him. This show is considered by most to be a romantic comedy, but it does share some of the darker elements of Shakespeare’s tragedies, so there’s a little something for everyone. This show will be playing in the Eccles theatre April 15th-16th and 19th-23rd.
As you can see this is going to be an eventful semester for everyone in our department and to better understand what people are looking forward to I asked some students to tell me what they are excited about this semester. Jason Baldwin said, “I am most excited for the directing and choreography scenes for this semester… We will be able to see ourselves grow and the people who we decide to cast as well”. Colton Ward, “I am excited to be doing a show that has such an iconic form that is, tap dancing.” Daniel Cubby Morris, “This semester I am doing the lighting design for The Tempest… I am completely ecstatic about it. I think it’s going to look beautiful.” Corey Thompson, “I am excited to go to Hawaii for KCACTF because it is going to be a fun academic trip.” And Nick Rice “I am thoroughly excited to participate in this semester’s production of The Tempest… and put our own unique twist on some classic Shakespeare.” And these are only a few of the students from all over the department who are all working on their own exciting projects. I hope you are as excited for what is to come out of this semester as I am.