Alumni theater engages campus with new plays

by Amelia Rosch | 6/30/14 5:14pm

A man dying of syphilis is caught in the delusion that he lives in the 1800s. A folk singer from the 1950s vanishes one day leaving only her music behind. These stories and more will make up the productions of the second annual VoxFest this weekend.

VoxFest, a summer festival that develops theatrical projects by Dartmouth alumni, brings around 50 students, alumni and outside artists to campus this week to rehearse and develop their respective productions, including one whose writing process did not start until Monday.

Matthew Cohn ’08, Vox Theater’s co-founder and managing director, said that the festival’s goal is to produce various new and original pieces while connecting students and alumni.

“We place a huge emphasis on incorporating the students as much as possible,” Cohn said. “Someday, these students will be out making theater alongside of us.”

This year’s festival lineup features “HAZE” by Niegel Smith ’02, “In Deserto” whose concept was created by Karisa Bruin ’05, “Road Kill Giant” by Aleshea Harris and “A Star Has Burnt My Eye” by Howard Fishman.

Thom Pasculli ’05, Vox Theater’s co-founder and artistic director, said that the pieces featured in this year’s festival focus on innovation and risk taking.

Pasculli is the director of “In Deserto.”

“They only have the opportunity to be developed in this way at this festival,” he said. “The incubation and space that they are being afforded is without pressure and restriction.”

He described “HAZE” as a “participatory walk” that looks at exclusive social groups. Smith will lead audience members on a walk through campus and question the roles of exclusive societies, while “creating certain exclusive actions,” Pasculli said.

“Pox,” a play by Kate Mulley ’05, Vox Theater’s co-founder and president, looks at a young man sick with untreated syphilis who starts to hallucinate that he is an 18th century gentleman, Cohn said.

“In Deserto,” Cohn said, is a play that will be “developed completely from scratch.” He said that four writers began to develop the topic yesterday and will work with Bruin and actors to make a final product.

“Road Kill Giant” is a series of interconnected stories that explore loss and trauma, its director Marina McClure ’04 said. She said that VoxFest allows the play to continue to develop.

“We will work with furious intensity to bring the emotional core of the piece to life and see where it lands,” she said.

“A Star Has Burnt My Eye” sits between the genres of musical and play, Pasculli said, and tells the story of Connie Converse, a 1950s singer who mysteriously vanished.

The work will focus on Converse’s “haunting” music, he said.

“All that was left behind of her was music that had never been heard before,” he said.

The festival will also include “Vox Barter,” in which performers will create small performance art installations in the Hood Museum, Cohn said. The installations will range from music to modeling.

Theater professor Jamie Horton, who participated in VoxFest last year as an actor, said that he thinks the festival’s variety is one of its biggest strengths.

“For our students to have that exposure to that range of material is an exceptional opportunity,” he said.

Eleven students taking Horton’s class “Drama in Performance” will participate in VoxFest in various roles including actors and directors’ assistants.

He said he noticed the benefits of connecting students with young alumni pursing careers in the entertainment business.

“I’d say philosophically the thing that made so much sense me initially was the myriad benefits of our current students meeting alumni in the entertainment field with promising young careers,” he said. “There is real value of the connections made in the ten day period for our students. It’s a terrific marriage of interest.”

Pasculli said that a long-term goal is to continue to engage the Dartmouth alumni artist network.

Horton said that he is optimistic that VoxFest will continue due to the high level of interest and its focus on collaboration.

“This kind of experiential learning is too good to miss,” he said.

Last year’s VoxFest included seven different productions . Cohn said that last year’s festival was a bit larger than this year’s because several productions, including the musical “Oneida” by Beth Blatt ’79, required larger casts.

The festival is organized by Vox Theater, the Theater Department and the Office of Alumni Relations. The productions will run from July 5-6. “Vox Barter” will occur on Wednesday.