The New York Theatre Semester Allows Students to Create a New Production

Caitlin Shannon, Editor of Student Life and Arts

In Fall 2017, the newest New York Semester, which is all about theatre, began with an inaugural group of enthusiastic majors waiting to grow in artistry and make something great together. Over spring break, their semester-and-a-half of work will culminate in two weekends of performances of the show they created together, titled 4320p: IMMERSION.

In the spring of 2017, the students met and decided on a guiding principle for their show – the curated self. Then, they reconvened in the fall, this time in New York City, excited to put their preliminary idea to work with devising company Tectonic Theatre Project. While collaborating with Tectonic Theatre Project, they learned about Moment Work, a form of theatre that focuses on the physical elements of the stage and their storytelling processes, removing the text from the initial stages of story development. For the majority of the fall semester they didn’t even have a script. Instead, as the show’s director Madeleine Blossom (’18) describes, “Each choice we make is not about the text or the story the text tells, but how light has its own narrative or how a certain prop helps to create a story.” The students traveled to New York City to meet with Tectonic Theatre Project and learn their processes, and later on to troubleshoot problems. “Going into the city for theatre felt like such a dream come true for us because it felt like this was our career in real time,” said Alizé Martínez (’18) about the experience. As if that doesn’t sound tiring enough, once they returned to Drew they had evening rehearsals to implement changes and the things they learned.

“We wanted to talk about the role of social media and technology and its relation to identity,” said Emily Dzioba (’18), the show’s dramaturg, about the group’s idea for the show. The show takes place in a not-so-distant future in which Internet influencers compete to have their content picked up on the premiere virtual reality platform, inGenuine. “In the pressures of the digital age, how can these contestants keep their humanity and their identity?” shared Dzioba. The show is technically demanding, proving a challenge for the group as they have been doing the tech for the show in Madison and will have to pack everything up and take it to New York over spring break for their first performances at the John Cullum Theatre.

In collaboration with Tectonic Theatre Company, the group worked to create a show around their concept. “This piece now is so collaborative and literally the complete opposite of anything I’ve ever worked on,” said Blossom, who added that for most of the first semester no one had distinct roles. “I started out like everyone else, an equal collaborator to this production, and it wasn’t until we had our script and started the actual production process that I truly stepped forward and became ‘The Director.’”

“Creating theatre in a process like this, that is in an unconventional sense, has allowed me to throw the fear aside and trust that something cool, unique and engaging will emerge from the process,” added John McGowan (’19), playing the role of Jay Holliday in the show, reflecting on how the show has been a completely new experience for everyone involved.

“This experience has been so rewarding, and taught me how much I am actually capable of,” said Chole Martins (’18), who is both acting in the show and acting as the head costume designer. “I’ve had to challenge myself creatively and learn how to make my initial (and somewhat basic) ideas more dynamic,” said Madison Couture (’18) who is set designing for the show, her first experience in the position. As a program that is already quite hands-on, the New York Theatre Semester has pushed students to apply the skills that they’ve learned in the classroom and put them to use in real-world situations.

Students will perform 4320p: IMMERSION in New York City over spring break at the John Cullum Theatre on W 54th Street, at the American Theater for Actors. The shows are Thurs. March 8 and Fri. March 9 at 7:30 p.m., and Sat. March 10 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 General Admission and $10 for students. At Drew, it will be in the Thomas H. Kean Theatre on Thurs. March 15 and Fri. March 16 at 7:30 p.m. and Sat. March 17 at 2 p.m. only. Tickets at Drew are $10 General Admission and $5 Students.

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