Festival traverses new narratives

Omar Sangare, professor of theater, appeared as a guest artist in the festival he founded two years ago.
Omar Sangare, professor of theater, appeared as a guest artist in the festival he founded two years ago.

Irish, African and British accents feigned by students of the College at the Dialogue One Solo Theatre Festival on Sunday conveyed the multicultural vibe that Omar Sangare, professor of theater, envisioned when he founded the festival two years ago. Dialogue One allows student-actors at the College the opportunity to work alongside and learn from professionals. Additionally, the variety of backgrounds and perspectives of the performers attracts a diverse audience; people come from as far as New York City to enjoy the festival.

While the festival is composed entirely of solo performances, its ironic name reveals Sangare’s desire to refute the concept of the monologue. “There are no monologues. You are involved in dialogue at least with the universe itself,” he said.

This year’s festival showcased the work of nine students. Group A, consisting of Eric Anderson ’10, Michaela Morton ’12, Eben Hoffer ’10 and Lucas Bruton ’11, performed Thursday and Saturday nights. The other five students, Evan Maltby ’11, Michelle Rodriguez ’12, Jesse Gordon ’10, Tyisha Turner ’12 and Christopher Fox ’11, formed Group B, which performed Friday and Sunday.

Sunday’s performance demonstrated the students’ collaborative and creative abilities. Each actor created a one-of-a-kind story with a sophisticated balance between realism and whimsy. I went to the show with only a few vague expectations, not really knowing what the Dialogue One Festival was about, but Maltby’s mannerisms and artificial reminiscing immediately revealed how complex the pieces were. Rather than sharing typical experiences of typical Americans, the performers imagined foreign adventures and uncommon obsessions.

Shared elements among a few of the stories unified a show involving five characters with seemingly unrelated pasts. Turner and Gordon speculated about the existence of the Loch Ness monster, while Maltby and Fox shared their solo contemplations on Greek mythological animals. These repeated concepts, through subtle similarities, were testaments to the festival’s motto. Characters unknowingly responded to one another; they sympathized with, mocked and rejected each other’s thoughts and opinions. As Sangare suggested, the infinite universe makes a truly isolated monologue impossible.

The notion of inevitable interaction was a tenet of the first festivals, but this weekend’s show differed from those of the past two years in other ways. Because Sangare was on sabbatical, David Eppel, professor of theater, took over this year’s supervising role. Eppel, who currently teaches the “Solo Performance” theater course, in which students develop their work for the Dialogue One performance, created a few unprecedented requirements for his students. He asked them to create new identities instead of basing their characters off familiar personalities and stipulated that each story include a memory somehow related to a real, well-known issue. This year’s show also used fewer props than the previous one, putting greater pressure on the actors to convey credibility.

Another key difference was Sangare’s role in the festival. Usually directing the weeks leading up to the festival, Sangare appeared on stage last weekend as one of the two guest performers. His True Theatre Critic, which was shown after Group B’s first performance, has earned him national and international acclaim. Sangare’s famous piece vividly depicts the identity conflicts of an actor-turned-critic tormented by loneliness in every career he attempts. The New York International Fringe Festival’s Best Acting Award, San Francisco Fringe Festival’s Best Performance Award and the Grand Prix at the Grotowski Stage International Theater Festival in Poland are only a few of the 10 awards the piece has earned since its premiere in 1997.

The visiting artist of the 2009 season, Jonah Bokaer, incorporated a wide range of mediums in his performances. A choreographer and media artist, Bokaer has earned prestigious awards from organizations like the Dance Theatre Workshop, as well as a fellowship from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts and a scholarship from Dance/USA. Bokaer showcased his talent as a dancer and his aptitude with digital animation on Saturday night, following Group A’s second show. His Three Cases of Amnesia, which is composed of three distinct media works, False Start, Charade and Nudedescendance, examined motion in a variety of forms, from live expression to digital rendering.

The students offered similarly thought-provoking, though somewhat less enrapturing, performances. The elaborately woven tales revealed impressive imaginative abilities on the part of the students. Unfortunately, solo acts are at risk of becoming monotonous; for me, Turner’s performance lacked the conviction necessary to compensate for the inherent sag in energy toward the middle of a show. Her character was the most relatable and consequently the least gripping. That said, Maltby’s and Fox’s complex stories were sometimes difficult to follow, and I found myself in a state of lethargic contemplativeness at the end of the hour.

Even so, the performances were enjoyably intriguing; the reoccurring elements elicited a satisfying “aha” moment of comprehension. Dialogue One is a unique form of international theater, and I look forward to seeing what next year’s cast contributes.