This academic year all students are guaranteed a free ticket to each of the six main stage productions brought to life by the Department of Theatre, Speech and Dance. However, due to the major renovation of Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall, all the productions will be relocated to the historic Kimball Theatre in downtown Williamsburg. This change in venue poses an exciting challenge for the department as it prepares for the fast approaching 2018-19 season.
“Working with the Kimball Theatre requires us to design and produce things in an offsite location,” Director of Production and theatre professor Matthew Allar said. “So, our scene shop for this semester will still be in PBK Memorial Hall, but we need to think about things in a way that we can put them in a truck and take them down the street and then load them into a different space. Which is an industry standard for most professional theaters, so it’s a really great chance for us to think in those terms, but also teach in those terms. It gives us a chance to really model that kind of production environment for our students in a way that we haven’t been able to do so in the past.”
The first production to hit the Kimball stage in early October will be “The Children’s Hour.” From renowned playwright Lillian Hellman comes a story of two young women and their journey to successfully run a boarding school for girls whilst dealing with a problematic rumor that threatens to destroy all that the women have worked to build for themselves.
Allar said that preparation for the season and for “The Children’s Hour” began at the end of March 2018 and continued all summer, as the department and facilities readied to produce live theater.
“Directors and designers will get together and develop a conceptual approach to that piece, how that story is going to be told and through what sort of lens we want the audience to understand the piece,” Allar said.
The next piece to grace Kimball Theatre will be “Dancevent,” featuring the Orchesis Modern Dance Company. The performance will run Oct. 25-28 and exhibit all original works created by the dance faculty and performed by faculty, guest artists and Orchesis company members.
Orchesis member Daniella Superlano ’20 said that preparation for the Orchesis production begins over the summer, with all of the company members doing their part to stay in touch with dance in the summer months. Superlano said that, during the summer, the professors work to develop choreographic concepts for the fall’s “Dancevent.”
“Over the summer, being part of the company, we all do our own thing,” Superlano said. “All of us go home to our studios, and most of us dance. I danced all summer; I danced with my ballet company from home.”
The third production from the department will be the musical “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” which will show from Nov. 15–18 and Nov. 29 – Dec. 2. With an upbeat and fun premise, Allar is excited about the opportunity to include some guest spellers from the community.
“It is a fairly lighthearted, but also very poignant musical about, effectively, kids at a spelling bee,” Allar said. “It’s a great musical to produce in the Kimball Theatre. We’re looking to really embrace the environment and the community that way and have a lot of fun. It offers a lot of opportunities for guest spellers; we’re likely to involve some major individuals from the campus community that I think people on campus will recognize.”
Next in the season lineup, during the last weekend of February 2019, is “Our Lady of 121st Street.” Pulitzer Prize-winner Stephen Adly Guirgis’ dark comedy, set in a Harlem neighborhood, follows the mystery surrounding a missing body and a family’s pursuit to uncover what exactly went wrong.
In March, the Orchesis Modern Dance Company will take the stage again in “An Evening of Dance.” This annual concert allows students to develop and perform original choreography.
Company member Grace Poreda ’21 is especially enthusiastic about the upcoming season as she enters her second year with the company.
“Last year I was a freshman, and it was my first year in the company,” Poreda said. “Everything was new and exciting, and I didn’t really know what to expect. I am most excited for going into the year really knowing the people that I am dancing with. I just think that is so important in choreography, to be close with your company as people because it makes for a better company as a whole, as dancers.”
Finally, in accordance with the 100 Years of Women celebration, the department is developing a new main stage production that will be a site-specific performance in and around the Christopher Wren Building. Premiering April 24-28, “… & Mary” explores the layered history of the building and provides a unique opportunity for students and faculty to delve into how historical sources interact with modern day reflections.
“The department was really interested in expanding its understanding and definition of theater,” Allar said. “There is a lot of theater in the world that is not created by a predetermined script; there are a lot of improvisational things and a lot of impromptu events that are redefining what 21st century theater means to people. So, a devised piece helps set up a structure for a company of people who come from all different backgrounds … to form a company and land on a type of story they want to tell, need to tell or feel compelled to tell, and then shape a production around that idea. Our department is taking an active role in the 100 years celebration of women on campus and it seems like the perfect fit for us to wrestle with that idea, with that history on campus, in a really positive way to create something that both celebrates but also investigates what that means to people right now.”
As preparations for the 2018-19 season are fully underway, with rehearsals beginning this week, anticipation surrounds the potential for greater student turnout this year. Allar hopes that free student tickets will serve as an incentive to mobilize students from all corners of campus to attend.
“Hopefully it’s a great motivator to get people to come out and see live theater,” Allar said. “We live in a culture that has so many types of theater and spectacle and entertainment online and in movie theaters, but there is nothing quite as good as live theater, for connecting with people in person. So hopefully students will get excited about that because the price is right.”