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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

BTC offers undergraduate opportunities

Published: September 23, 2005
Section: Arts, Etc.

Last week Eric Hill, Chair of the Theater Arts Department, was kind enough to spare a few minutes to discuss the new Brandeis Theater Company (BTC) with The Hoot.

In creating the BTC, Hill hopes to promote the goals of Brandeis University itself. Hill believes that theater has the unique ability to express the issues and values of institutions in a public forum. He therefore intends to use the BTC to examine the values that both Brandeis and the BTC hold dearthe pursuit of truth, social justice, and equality. It will strive to put on shows that echo the values held by the university and thereby will be an outlet for plays that speak to these issues directly.

The BTC is also here to serve the undergraduate theater community as a unique way to experience professional theater in a pre-professional environment. Hill explained that this professional environment will manifest itself through following the rules of professional theater and the production of high quality works. Some undergraduates have expressed concerns that hiring professional actors will cut into their theatrical opportunities in the department. Hill swore that this is not the case;

professionals are only going to be hired to fill age-specific roles, due to the lack of plays that have casts consisting exclusively of young people. Hill elaborated that, for example, casting an undergraduate to play an elderly woman would reduce the quality of the performance, negatively alter the dynamic of the plays ensemble, and be of limited educational value to the young actress. The experience for students will be enhanced by hiring professional directors, giving students the opportunity to apply what they have learned in classrooms in a professional setting.

Hill has emphasized that his chief goal as Chair of the Theater Arts Department is to better develop the undergraduate talent here a Brandeis and offer them more opportunities than they have had in the past. To achieve this goal, he trimmed the graduate program from thirty students to ten and reworked the undergraduate major and minor requirements. He feels his approach is already showing signs of success. The new Intro to Theater course drew over sixty students this year, while department auditions attracted a record 50-plus students, forcing them to stretch the prepared part of auditions into two nights instead of the normal one.

Hills other goal in creating the Brandeis Theater Company is giving it a name to present a clear division between the curriculum taught in classes and the shows produced in Spingold Theater. In doing so, the BTC will become a separate entity with a specific quality recognized both inside and outside the university and the productions will be recognized as more than just a continuation of class work. Hill explained that by naming the theater company, it establishes its identity and gives it a name to which we associate a level of quality and that level of quality becomes a standard that we associate with that name.

The BTC will also provide the audience a new Second Look Series. This offers audiences the opportunity to bond with the company for a deeper look into the creation of the production after one performance during each shows run. Through a post show discussion, audiences will be able to talk to the actors, directors, and even writers (if available) about the creation of a given work. This will enable audiences to find out how different elements of the creation of the performance they witnessed came together.

One of the rare opportunities seeping into the new BTC is this seasons plethora of premiers. This fall and spring feature two world-premiers by Brandeis alumni: The Two Orphans, featuring the work of Brandeis alumni Theresa Rebeck (book and lyrics) and John Sheehy (lyrics) with music by Kim Sherman, and Things Beyond Our Control by Jesse Kellerman. Also, the spring will feature the premier of a new adaptation of Euripidess The Bacchae written and directed by Eric Hill and a new translation of Nikolai Erdmans The Suicide by Professor David Powelstock of the Russian Literature Department.

One of Hills objectives is to seek out plays that will allow him to make connections between the Theater Arts Department and other disciplines. In addition to the Russian Literature collaboration on The Suicide, Hills adaptation of The Bacchae will be produced in conjunction with the Classics Department with music composed by the Music Department and performed by the Lydian String Quartet. Hill has also begun building relationships with other departments such as Anthropology, English, the Heller School, and will be looking into the physical sciences as well. Hill stated that the job of this department is to reveal the theaters unique ability to discuss issues from a wide range of disciplines and bring them into a public forum that allows people to come and examine those issues in a very unique way;

and thats what we intend to do.

The initial season of the Brandeis Theater Company will begin Thursday, October 20 with the preview performance of Charles Mees Big Love in Spingolds Laurie Theater.