While many students at the College spent their summers in the far off corners of the world, 10 talented theater students had the opportunity to spend their summer in the Purple Valley acting, directing, writing and producing at the Summer Theatre Lab.
The Lab has been a part of the College’s summer calendar since its begin in 2004. Led by Artistic Director and visiting lecturer in theater Kevin O’Rourke ’78, the Lab brings a small group of students together with alumni who have become professionals in various areas of theater. The students live, eat and breathe theater for the seven weeks they spend together on campus. The Lab culminated in a performance of 2 Gents, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona, at the end of the summer. The performance will be recreated this Friday and Saturday for members of the College.
Much of the students’ time this summer was dedicated to taking instructional workshops on different aspects of theater. Some of these courses involved behind-the-scenes work such as writing scripts, while others exposed the students to types of acting that they may not have experienced before. “We learned everything from publicity to company management,” Lizzie Stern ’14 said. “We took classes in areas of theater I wasn’t used to like clowning and mask work.”
As it explains on its website, “The Lab’s goal is to nurture theatrical projects that foster creative experimentation, artistic risk taking and the collaborative process.” By providing a learning environment first and foremost, the Lab allows for its participants to be creative in the way they think about theater and to expand upon those thoughts together as a company without the stress of criticism.
Ryan Pavano ’13 appreciates how the summer courses helped the company to solidify as a group in preparation for its show. “By participating within the structure of the workshops, we were able to closely engage with several different professional approaches on how to think about making theater, and by the end of the summer, we really started to get in tune with our group’s own unique approach to making theater,” Pavano said. This approach was eventually used in the Lab’s staging of 2 Gents.
In the midst of workshops, technical responsibilities and administrative duties, the company was also preparing for Open Lab Weekend, which occurred Aug. 19 and 20. Along with SMÖRGÅSBORD, a series of short plays performed and directed by the undergraduate company, 2 Gents opened to the public in August as the closing performance of the Lab’s 2011 season. “The play has some terrific language, wonderful characters and a fun, light-hearted tone,” O’Rourke said. “I also felt it was a good fit for undergrads. We could make it about college-age kids, about best friends competing for the love of a beautiful, exotic woman while spending ‘time abroad’ – could be a Junior from the College?”
Being lucky enough to hail from Berkshire County, I was able to see the show at the end of the summer. While sticking to the original Shakespearian language, the company chose to place the setting in the 1940s, allowing for, in O’Rourke’s words, “a vaudevillian playfulness that gives the characters their charm.” The mix of an exciting and adventurous script with creative stage use made the show impossible not to engage with. “This production uses the balconies, gondolas, staircases et. cetera, enabling us to surround the audience and involve them very directly,” O’Rourke said.
CenterStage at the ’62 Center was the perfect venue for this show, because instead of staring up at a stage of actors, the audience was able to look above, below, behind and every which way as the action of the show encased them in its world. Music was also a huge part of this particular performance, one that has not been utilized by the Lab in the past. The musical talents of Summer Theatre Lab alum Eric Kang ’09 allowed the show to keep its fast pace and energy level even during scene changes.
As the company prepares for its second staging of 2 Gents, I asked what the best part of the summer was now that they can reflect back. “Being a part of a company that was so close was amazing,” Stern said. “We spent all of our time together, I can’t wait to do the show again so that everyone can see it.” Pavano expressed a similar sentiment: “Working in a company and finding how I fit in that group of theater-makers was the most memorable part of my experience … The opportunity to live and work so close to one another created an environment for a really valuable kind of experimentation.”
Summer audiences and the members of the comany themselves were all extremely happy with the final results of the season. “I felt fantastic about the summer’s outcome,” Tallis Moore ’14 said. “We hit the perfect balance between getting to learn from various artists who all had wildly different approaches to their craft, and getting to get our own hands dirty with our involvement in all the aspects of production.”
While I won’t give away anymore about the show, I will say that it is a very funny and lighthearted performance that will improve your day no matter what co
ndition you may be in. The talent of the company shines through not only in the acting, but also in light of the fact that the entire production, from paper to stage to behind-the-scenes, was orchestrated from scratch by our own peers.