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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The play’s the thing

Brandeis community leaves mark on Boston theater scene

Published: August 27, 2010
Section: Arts, Etc.

The night is cool and dry; there will be a show tonight. Families, couples and groups of friends sit in haphazard clusters on the spongy grass of the Boston Common. A three-year-old reaches into a wicker basket for a packet of crackers as his mother slides on a pair of glasses and straightens the folds of their blanket. All have come to experience a slice of the Boston theater scene, Shakespeare On the Common’s “Othello.” Members of the Brandeis community have helped both behind and on-stage to make the show a possibility. In fact, many Brandeis faculty, students and alumni have participated in Boston’s emerging theater scene doing technical and artistic work, acting, directing and starting their own theater companies.

Shakespeare on the Common starred Assistant Professor of Theater Arts Adrianne Krstanky as Emilia and alumna Marianna Bassham ’02 as Desdemona. Krstanksy described how “Othello” allowed a diverse range of people to come into contact with Boston’s thriving theater culture in an interview with The Hoot.

“Audience members would talk back to characters onstage, we were acting with helicopters flying overhead, sirens in the background, etc … people could eat, drink, get up, walk around, talk during the performance,” she said. “I think the event is alive in a theatrical sense and getting people to see theater who never do so otherwise.”

In recent years, the size and variety of Boston theater productions has grown and the theater culture has developed a character that is unique to the city. Krstansky explained, “The Boston theater scene is in the midst of a huge expansion and on the cusp of coming into its own identity. For years iftfeels as if Boston considered itself in second place to New York City, but what is happening now is more and more smaller and midsize companies are not only achieving a higher profile in the community but really honing in on their own place in Boston.”

One of these budding production companies, CoLab Theatre, was set up by Brandeis alumni Kenny Fuentes ’08 and Erika Geller ’09 and Boston local Mary-Liz Murray during the summer of 2009. CoLab joined the ranks of Boston’s numerous small theater companies that were also founded in recent past years such as Holland Productions and 11:11. Brandeis alumna Sierra Kagen ’09 starred in CoLab’s first show “Play” which premiered Tuesday night. “I’m just beginning to scratch the surface of this subgroup, and I’m finding a vivaciousness and passion for the art that can only be described as refreshing” Kagen said.

CoLab’s motto is “We focus on the how, not the what. The process, not the product.” Fuentes, the Founding Artistic Director explained that he wanted to start an “actor-centric” company, one where the “director should inspire creativity instead of impose vision.”

“Play” featured experimental plays including “Growing up,” an ensemble piece in which the actors were involved with the scriptwriting and directing of the play. Kagen starred in “Growing up” directed by Geller and the more traditional “The Real Family” directed by Fuentes. “Kenny has done a great job of working with us and guiding rather than dictating where the piece needed to go. But in the end, when we perform our scenes, it still feels like someone else’s work. It’s still the author’s play, and the men and women merely players. Erika’s piece is so much our own, that it’s hard to feel any real sense of ownership in the scenes.”

The Brandeis community has established a reputation for itself in the Boston theater scene. Both Krstansky and Fuentes believe that it is a positive one. “We’re creative, extremely agreeable to experiments and on board to put in work and believe in what we’re doing.”