The Williams College Summer Theatre Lab does not involve beakers, rubber gloves or the eyewash that its name might suggest – but experimentation abounds. Now in its fourth year, 10 undergraduate thespians participated in the Lab, a program offered by the theatre department and conceived by Artistic Director Kevin O’Rourke ’78 and department chair Rob Baker-White ’80.
For six weeks, students live on campus and work in the CenterStage of the ’62 Center with visiting alumni artists to further their knowledge in all aspects of theater by taking workshops and putting on productions. Projects range to cover all areas of production, acting, directing, writing and even work with video and design.
“The Summer Theatre Lab is a tight-knit learning company – as in an opportunity both to work closely in a team and to try a lot of new things,” said Eric Kang ’09, one of this summer’s participants.
Over the course of the summer, the students put on a number of productions and participated in several workshops in areas many had never received training in before, such as playwriting. “The playwriting workshop was both the most enjoyable and most challenging part of the Lab,” Kang said. “I had never written a play before, and Margie [Duffield ’85] really led us to break down our characters and write from their experiences.”
Many of the Lab’s participants are more used to reading the words written by others and not creating lines themselves. “As an actor, it’s enlightening to approach a character from the inventive side,” Kang said.
Lucas Bruton ’11, another Lab member, agreed that the playwriting workshop is one of the program’s highlights. “The playwriting workshop is actually a fairly unique opportunity, as company members spend the week writing short one-act plays, some of which are selected and performed by other actors in the company later in the summer,” Bruton said. Other workshops included acting, screenwriting, Shakespeare, musical theater, voice and text, scene study, clowning and master classes with Broadway and Hollywood veterans.
In addition to several smaller presentations on a weekly basis, this year’s Lab concluded with a full scale production of “Suicide in B-flat” by Sam Shepard. Although the show was alumni designed and directed, students were involved in every aspect of the production, working as stage managers and assistants in lighting and costume design in addition to acting.
Each of the major theater lab projects were also open to the public, and students got to showcase their work in an “Open Lab Weekend” in early August where the Company remounted many of their productions from earlier in the summer.
This summer marked the first Open Lab Weekend, which was unique in giving family and community members the opportunity to see all of the productions in one weekend while the Lab participants gained the experience of working as a real repertory company that has multiple works in production.
To Bruton, the Summer Theatre Lab is the perfect opportunity for a liberal arts student with varied interests. “For a long time, I have been interested in both medicine and acting,” Bruton said. “I had spent the previous three summers working in a genetics lab in St. Louis, and it had been a while since I had used my summer break to do theater. As I was still debating whether or not I was going to be a theater major, I decided to try the program and see if that was something I could see myself doing professionally.”
For Kang, the Lab was a welcome escape from Williams’ hectic academic year. “I spent the summer in the theater because I needed a creative outlet. We as students spend so much time writing papers and analyzing and critiquing, and to be honest I had forgotten what I had loved so much about the arts,” Kang said. “During the year we also do a lot of our work alone, and I really wanted a collaborative experience; theater is really a multimedium and only works when people with many different specialties work together, and that was also an invaluable part of the Lab.”
But why spend your summer doing theater in Williamstown when you are doing the same thing all year? “What makes the Summer Theatre Lab different from other classes at Williams is that it gives those who participate the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in all facets of theater,” Bruton said. “Those who have previously only acted get the chance to do lighting design, directing or stage managing; everyone has to work together to put on the shows.”
The opportunity for current Williams students to collaborate with seasoned professionals from the performing arts world makes the Theater Lab a unique opportunity for anyone interested in theater. “I would definitely recommend the experience to anyone who is interested in theater at all,” said Bruton. “If someone has previously only been exposed to a very specific part of the theater, I would recommend it as a way to broaden one’s view and give anyone the experience of working with all of the extremely talented people that Williams has to offer.”