Monday, November 27, 2006

News: No Lights? No Stage? No Problem

Student DIY Dramaturgy
By Ben Kelly
      Devin Murphy, LJ Regine and Phoebe Tyres, three of the Lang Theater Collective's five board members, sat with [i]Inprint[i] recently in the Theresa Lang Community Center. Here, on November 17th and 18th, the group staged Fall Fire, their third production. The hall is rectangular and lined with columns—not an ideal space for dramatic performances.
      “We sort of managed a way to make it into a space,” said Murphy, who directed one of the production's four plays and wrote another.
      “It's almost more fun, in a way,” Regine chimed in. “We don't have a theater, so it's more organic.”
      With no budget or designated space, the LTC have taken a renegade approach to dramaturgy. They rehearse in empty classrooms, host parties to raise money, and write, direct and act in all of their shows. They say their methods give them more freedom than they could have working within the Drama Department.
      At the same time, without the support of the school, LTC has had to overcome both their own financial setbacks and the Department's skepticism, just to get Fall Fire on stage.
When they formed in the spring of 2006, the LTC considered becoming a school-sponsored organization. But, the school wanted them to change their name from the Lang Theater Collective to the New School Theater Collective. The group refused.
      “They wanted us to be inclusive to the university,” Murphy said. “Not that we aren't. The university is welcome to get involved. But we're running this out of Lang.”
      The decision to reject organization-status cost the LTC the chance for school funding. It was after the LTC had chosen the Fall Fire scripts from a pool of thirty student-written pieces and cast the actors that problems began.
      The first: they didn't have a space to rehearse. The board members described combing the school for places to practice.
      “It was sort of fun,” Tyres said. “We'd just hijack classrooms, call each other up, and say 'I found a spot.'”
      The collective was able to book the Theresa Lang Center for their production. But there were problems with the community center. The room has no stage lights—and, for that matter, no stage.
      “We were told it was the 'crown jewel' of the New School's performing spaces,” Regine said. “We didn't find it to be that, exactly.”
      The collective made do, borrowing lighting kits from Knowledge Unlimited, which lends New School students film equipment. A stage, though, was a more intractable problem.
      The collective approached Kathleen Briedenbach, associate dean at Lang, to ask for a stage, props and other support. They got this email in return: “I'm afraid we're not going to be able to honor most of these requests. The theater program already has a budget for productions, and this show is not included...I know you have put a lot of energy and time into this, but I am concerned about going forward with the show, especially since you are not a recognized student group.”
      The email was a low point. But canceling Fall Fire was never an option. Instead, they asked the Lang Student Union for help, and were awarded five hundred dollars.
      The shows went on, with a few hitches. The LTC decided not to use a stage, which obscured some of the plays' action from the audience. Still, the audience loved the show. And the group grossed six hundred dollars, which will go towards their next production.
      “I'm happy with the way things worked out,” Tyres said. “It gave us the drive to do this. The only way to learn how to do this is to do it, on our own.”

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