New York Theatre Workshop debuts six original plays
By Kunyi Li, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Tuesday, August 7, 2012
In addition to the numerous sports camps that Dartmouth hosts over the summer, the New York Theatre Workshop’s summer residency from July 29 to August 18 is a unique retreat for professional artists to create new works in Hanover, far from the city and pressure of critics.
The New York Theatre Workshop returns this summer for its 21st summer-in-residence at the College. As part of its three-week residency, the group will debut six original plays and will collaborate with students in workshops.
For the past two decades, the New York Theatre Workshop has provided Dartmouth students in Theater 65: Drama in Performance with first-hand experience in theater production.
While building lasting connections with industry professionals, students will have the rare opportunity to see some of these works-in-progress penned by the daring new playwrights transform into critically acclaimed hits on off-Broadway stages both at home and abroad.
“Theater 65 students are involved in a number of different ways … [working] as actors, assistant directors, assistant stage mangers, stage direction readers, playwright assistants and research assistants,” Peter Hackett ’76, who teaches Theater 65, said in an email to the Dartmouth. “Students consistently respond that this experience with New York Theatre Workshop is one of their most exciting and rewarding at Dartmouth. [Some] have continued on to intern with the workshop in New York City during off-terms.”
This unique annual program has garnered interest from theater majors and students across departments. In the classroom and on stage, they assist in rehearsals and contribute to the critiquing of plays alongside the creative directors and staffs of the New York Theatre Workshop.
“This program is a really rare opportunity for students to get to see how the industry works in real time — we got to observe every step of the process in putting on a show,” Diane Chen ’14, a theater and psychology double major, said. “It has been incredibly eye-opening to see people realistically doing what I have always wanted to do for the rest of my life, which had always been a very blurry vision of a future for me up until this point. So to say it’s been inspiring would maybe even be a bit of an understatement.”
The New York Theatre workshop uses an interactive process to produce new plays while in residency. Regular discussions — including one held every Wednesday night — aim to engage students intellectually in the production process.
The company also hosts informal “brown bag lunches” open to members of the community to cultivate a more diverse theater discourse.
“We share opinions like what is the role of artists in society, for instance,” Linda Chapman, associate artistic director of the New York Theatre Workshop, said. “We can talk about what students perceive this to be and the professionals can speak from their point of view.”
After the first week of this all-around collaborative effort, the New York Theatre Workshop performed two different shows in the Bentley Theater on Saturday. “This Blessed Plot,” a highly self-referential one-man show written and performed by Marc Wolf, questioned the role of theater in a society polarized by disparate ideologies. In five acts without an intermission, the protean Wolf single-handedly chronicled the 1959 “Battle for Free Shakespeare in Central Park” with personalities from both sides of the conflict and all walks of society.
“The Paradise Blue,” written by Dominique Morisseau, also opened on Saturday. The play is the second of a three-play series about a bebop trumpeter, Blue, his struggling jazz club in Detroit — Morisseau’s hometown — and his interactions with a mysterious woman, according to the New York Theatre Workshop’s program.
The New York Theatre Workshop’s summer-in-residence allows the group to experiment without the consequences of poor critical reception, Champman said.
“A work-in-progress is not reviewed,” Chapman said. “It’s not finished, it’s not fair to make any kind of judgment. What we are seeing here is a safe place to work away from critics. We try to protect the artist. For us what’s valuable here is the process, not the product.”
The New York Theatre Workshop has a reputation for crafting unconventional works that incorporate unprecedented practices in composition and stage design. The presentation of each play depends heavily on the harmony between set and dramatic delivery.
Each summer, the New York Theatre Workshop attracts a “group of very loyal followers in the community,” Hackett said in the email. The artists said they are grateful for the creative opportunities offered at the College.
“We just love the area,” Chapman, a resident of Manhattan, said. “We want to be able to come up here for three weeks. It’s like having a summer place. Plus work is always done here because it’s a concentrated theater environment that’s always inspiring for the artist. We are doing something that we can’t always do in New York.”
The New York Theatre Workshop will showcase two new plays each Saturday they are in residence, one at 3 p.m. and another at 8 p.m. Broadway star Martin Moran of Monty Python’s “Spamalot” will present “All the Rage,” an exploration of human compassion from the Rockies to Africa. Three additional plays will investigate same-sex unions, Susan Sontag and the historical foundations of United States.
Tickets for individual shows can be purchased for $5 each for Dartmouth students and $13 for community members.