Theater group struggles for space

The Frosh Revue may be the most anticipated show of the fall season; tickets have already sold out for Parents’ Weekend and are quickly clearing out for the coming week. But as of a few weeks ago, the members of the popular first-year improvisational comedy production were uncertain as to where their performances would be held.

Limited access to the Adams Memorial Theatre (AMT) this school year has made it difficult for Cap & Bells, Williams’ student theater organization and the producer of Frosh Revue, to find venues for their fall productions, including Frosh Revue.

According to Rolando Garcia ’02, artistic director of Cap & Bells, the number of slots in the AMT was decreased from last year’s allocation of two in the fall and one in the spring to two for the entire year.

Of three stages available for use in the Adams Memorial Theatre (AMT), only two – the Downstage and the Mainstage – can support large-scale performances. The lack of availability of these performing spaces this year forced Cap and Bells to choose between using the Downstage for the fall production of the Frosh Revue or placing the Frosh Revue in another venue, and using the Mainstage allocation for the fall. “It was a tough decision to make,” said Garcia.

Nicole Eisenman ’04, director of the Frosh Revue, said she knew that in order to put her show on the Downstage, Cap & Bells would have to make a sacrifice. “If we got the Down Stage that meant that Cap & Bells wouldn’t be able to perform [any other plays] on the Main Stage in December.”

Cosmo Catalano, production manager for the AMT and a lecturer in the theatre department, explained the reasons behind this year’s limited stage space: “When student groups use theaters, the Department provides equipment, technical know-how, and instruction,” he said. But because the department’s resources are finite, and there must first be funneled to efforts which “complement and enhance [the theater department’s] classroom work,” Catalano said.

Following the completion of classroom and department goals, the department then attempts to encourage other performance groups that enrich the theater at Williams.

“A theater is a dangerous place, particularly to the inexperienced,” said Catalano. “The experience level [of members of Cap & Bells] rarely rises to a point where they can operate without any supervision.” Catalano explained that this supervision is usually provided by members of the Theatre department, “so in the end, the amount of support for non-Department shows is driven by the availability of production faculty and staff – which varies during the year, and from year to year.”

The issue of diminished stage space initially led to some misunderstandings between Cap & Bells and the directors of Frosh Revue. “The confusion came in where the Frosh Revue believed they were not going to get the Downstage,” said Garcia. “Whereas the way we’d set it up was: find another venue, make sure you have that venue and then once the proposals are in, the board will make the decision.”

After intense discussions during the first week of October, the Cap & Bells board elected to reserve the Downstage for the Frosh Revue during Parents’ Weekend and the preceding week. “It was a matter of what’s best for the organization and what’s best for the shows being done,” Garcia explained. “Part of the reason Frosh Revue got the Downstage is because that’s what’s best for that show.”

Now scheduled to perform in their ideal venue, the Frosh Revue is focusing on rehearsals. But still, Garcia cites the board’s frustration over the limited spaces for student theater in the AMT.

“We’re the oldest student-run theater group in the nation,” he said. “It seems like we have this huge history which doesn’t matter because we’re not an academic department.”

Garcia worries that the Theater Deparment’s scheduling needs have cost Cap & Bells a valuable part of their season. “It really hurts us because we lose getting to do a big musical. We really needed something like the Mainstage. [The musical] is something the campus has been clamoring for.”

Despite the organizations’ frustration with some aspects of the department’s allocation policy, Garcia says Cap & Bells remains appreciative of the theater department’s guidance.

“They’re very helpful in coming in, showing us how to do things, making sure we do them right, giving us the time we need in the workshop, and generally working as a mentor.”

This season, Cap & Bells is slated to produce The Importance of Being Earnest, The Fantastics, Arcadia and a one-act festival, in addition to student readings and a cabaret.

Frosh Revue consists of a team of five directors and 10 first-year students. Eisenman described the production’s concept: “What they do is improv comedy the first two months and then write their own scripts, so the material in the show is all stuff they came up with through improv.”

Frosh Revue is Cap & Bells’ second show, following the September production of Two Chairs and a Box.