Here’s a riddle: What do kazoos, a Darth Vader mask, wooden horses, water guns, and kilts have in common?
To a casual passerby, the table piled high with these items in the Burke Black Box Theatre looks like a junkyard. To the 12 students running an informal theatre company this summer, the table is their toy box.
These props, borrowed from the theatre department’s prop closet and a student director’s grandparent’s house, were used in the two-day showing of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), performed in late June. This diverse group of theatre and non-theatre majors also staged Circle Mirror Transformation, a play by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Annie Baker, and are getting ready for their last performance, reasons to be pretty by Neil LaBute, on tomorrow (Thursday, July 24) and Friday (July 25).
“It kind of feels like we are a very little, tiny, baby theatre company — that has no budget and no preplanning,” says Sara Blike ’15, a cast member of Shakespeare and director of Circle Mirror.
“But we have a lot of pluck!” adds Emma Miller ’16, who directed Shakespeare.
“True, we’re a very plucky theatre company,” says Blike with a laugh. “And, honestly, this whole summer season has a tone that you’re doing theatre with your friends. It didn’t even feel like we were rehearsing anything with Shakespeare.”
The summer series began with a Facebook message from theatre and economics double major, Will Brackenbury ’15. Knowing there was a sizable amount of people with theatre backgrounds on campus this summer, he wanted to see if there was any interest in doing something theatre-related over break.
“I thought we would get together to play games, do some read-throughs, talk about plays, or maybe throw a show together,” says Blike, a theatre and creative writing double major from North Canton, Ohio. “I had no idea. I am so impressed with what it turned into.”
With a general consensus that something theatre-related should happen this summer, a group of about 12 students gathered in Blike’s Chamberlin apartment to eat pasta and discuss ideas.
“That meeting was actually incredibly productive,” she says.
“We pulled up a Microsoft Word document and made a list of about 30 potential plays we could do. There were three that people felt strongly about, so we chose those,” says Miller, a creative writing major who grew up in Granville before moving to Malaysia as a high school student.
“I made the cast list right then. In my head I just thought: you will be this, you will be this, you will be this, and you will be this. We started working on it two days later.”
While various faculty members have helped in small ways (for instance, the theatre department paid for the rights and royalties of each play), the plays have been selected, planned, acted, and directed by students.
“People have been very supportive, but I think it’s really cool that this all happened because we decided we wanted to do it. And we did it — without any real help. Besides me, no one else is even here for theatre this summer,” says Blike, who is doing summer research in the theatre department.
“It wasn’t even like we got together and were like, ‘we’re going to build our résumés,’ we just did it because we love it,” adds Miller, who is living with her grandparents in town and working in Denison’s library.
While the nature of this summer season is spontaneous, the group hopes that it can become an instilled practice.
“Denison used to have summer theatre, way back when. It is a thing that has been here before, and it would be great if something would happen [to bring it back],” says Blike.
“I would love to see student productions being performed during the summer,” says Miller, an aspiring screenwriter who has written a zombie apocalypse musical that will be produced this spring.
Regardless of what happens next year, we still have one last summer performance of reasons to be pretty to enjoy , and a year’s worth of drama by the theatre department, including Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles (directed by Blike), to hold our attention.