Walking into Tunnel City Coffee, it was not hard for me to find Lily Riopelle ’14. In a cropped, sea blue top, gladiator boots and bright red lipstick, she flashed me an easy-going smile, as her equally well-dressed friends moved over to make room for me. Casually sitting propped up against the wall, she is exactly the kind of person who spends entire days in the café, alternating between serious work and laid-back conversations with friends, somehow recreating a nostalgic 1920s Parisian ambiance in our very own Williamstown.
Despite all of my meticulously-prepared questions, I had not even opened my mouth when Riopelle already caught me off guard with a surprising revelation: “Even though I’m a director, the group of people I work with is crucial to my work,” she said. It took me some time to digest the significance of her words, what with the ingrained stereotype of the artist as a lone individual concentrating on her own expressions, thriving on the recognition of others rather than thinking of herself as one piece of a collaborative effort. Riopelle was alluding to her latest venture, the company Quick and Dirty that she has recently formed with a group of committed performers united by a genuine passion for theater.
Distinct from Cap & Bells, Quick and Dirty is a theater unit independent of the College. The incentive to form a collective began when Riopelle started to rehearse Woyzeck as part of the series, a dark social commentary on a working-class tragedy, when she met equally ardent people willing to devote themselves to theater production. “With these people, it is possible for ingenious ideals to clash because everyone is encouraging and open to suggestions,” she said. Together, the fruit of their labor blossomed and ripened in Spencer living room, which provided an intimate, personal setting for the performance of Woyzeck and allowed the show to directly involve the audience. With low-cost productions, Quick and Dirty does not depend on College funding, but rather whatever the troupe is willing to contribute out of its own pockets.
Impressed by Riopelle’s professional poise and eloquence, I hastened to ask her about her cultural background and how she became involved in the world of theater. Riopelle replied that she started participating in drama in the fourth grade, and that her decision had been motivated not by external influences, but instead by an internal desire for creativity. “In a world full of pre-packaged cultural products like Hollywood movies and TV shows, people are not left with much breathing room,” Riopelle said. “I want to create an outlet for creativity because I know that everyone is capable of imagining.
“I am currently working on a feminist-themed show, trying to address the difficult issues women confront in life,” she continued. “It is definitely something that would force the audience to contemplate.”
Riopelle divides her time mostly between classes and theater, which she never tires of. During the fall semester, she and her friends tried the “one-hour-a-day” rehearsal scheme, a highly innovative approach. When I asked her if it actually worked, she replied that, almost miraculously, the performers were more committed and wanted to do more with the limited time designated each day.
Fortunately, Riopelle’s colleagues provide her with a haven that she can return to. “With this newly formed company, we try our best to get everyone involved, to cultivate the artistic talents of others,” she said.
At this point, I finally realized Riopelle’s ultimate philosophy: The art of theater is essentially a collective and collaborative endeavor that not only requires the individual forte, but also the sparks that arise from working together. “I want to try and bring out the best in everyone in order to create works that are both enjoyable and meaningful,” Riopelle said. It was then that everything made sense: From her fascination with creativity and desire for collaboration, Riopelle does her best to bring people together through the process of making art and also in the appreciation of the resulting work.