Sitting around a table with Tony-award winning writer Lemon Andersen, students in the theater department’s “Drama in Performance” class discussed his script, suggesting a scene they wanted added or 10 pages they thought should be deleted. The meeting was part of the New York Theater Workshop’s 23rd summer residency at Dartmouth, which brings emerging directors, playwrights and actors as artists-in-residence to Dartmouth. For three weeks at Dartmouth, the artists-in-residence retreat into their creative spaces and focus entirely on their new works.
“It’s nice to be away from the opinion makers, away from the spotlight and give artists free reign,” the workshop’s associate artistic director Linda Chapman said.
The workshop has a “dual nature,” being both a developmental theater and presenting theater, Chapman said.
As a presenting theater, it stages renditions of well-known plays and performances in its theater space in New York. Its role as a developmental theater takes artists or companies in residence and helps them develop innovative ideas into full-fledged performances. Similar workshops are held at Vassar College.
“We appreciate having an ongoing conversation with the audience, but we feel it’s also important to encourage and push for new theatrical forms,” Chapman said.
The workshop stages four full productions each season and helps develop more than 60 projects a year.
Andersen, one of the artists-in-residence, is a spoken-word artist who won a Tony Award for Best Special Theatrical Event when he was a cast member on Russel Simmons Def Poetry Jam on Broadway. His new work in progress, “Toast,” will be read this Saturday. The piece will be his development of a folklore telling style called toasting, he said.
“I wanted to involve caricature in poetry,” he said, during a brown-bag lunch presentation and question and answer session on Tuesday.
Colman Domingo, another artist-in-residence, is currently working on a play called “Dot.” The first half of the script will be read this Saturday.
The workshop makes up the last few weeks of the theater department’s “Drama in Performance” class, and students can glimpse how professional theater operates.
Students also learn a feedback method used by the that intends for feedback to be a catalyst and inspiration for the artists.
Carina Conti ’16 said she is excited to be working on “Toast” this week, and said that students have been involved in the creative process.
“Andersen is a really great person because he’s so accomplished but treats us like equals, which is a really rare thing to get as college students,” Conti said.
Each student can work with at least two projects in the span of three weeks. They work as assistants to stage managers, directors and choreographers, or in smaller roles as actors based on their interest and capabilities.
Carene Mekertichyan ’16, a student in the class, will be assistant directing Anaïs Mitchell’s “Hadestown” for the next two weeks.
“I’m really excited to get more experience with the ins and outs of directing, learn more about NYTW and what it means to be a non-profit theater and form relationships with amazing, talented artists,” Mekertichyan said.
The line between writing and acting is blurry, and they often support and inform each other, Domingo said during the brown bag lunch.
“It’s all part of a story-telling tradition,” he said.
Six projects are lined up over three weeks. Each piece will have a week to develop, and the results will be presented on Saturday of each week. “Hadestown,” a rock opera, is the only exception, as it will have the full three weeks.
“It’s much more complicated because not only do you have the script, but you also have the music and dance to work with,” Hopkins Center publicity coordinator Rebecca Bailey said.
Every Wednesday for the duration of the residence, New York Theater Workshop holds a seminar at Occum Commons with “Drama in Performance” students. Over the course of three weeks, the seminars will discuss the critical feedback process, learn about the theater and political climate in Hungary with two Hungarian artists in residence and attend a reading of another work in progress Mitchell.
At this past Wednesday’s seminar, Conti said, students discussed the role of theater in today’s culture with the workshop’s director and several participating directors and writers.
“We’re always invited to really get to know them on a personal level and we’re learning so much in a real-life context,” Conti said.