New York Theater Workshop collaborates with students

by olivia harvey | 8/18/17 2:05am

Over the course of this summer, the New York Theater Workshop has presented a diverse array of new and exciting work-in-progress plays to the Dartmouth community. The pieces featured addressed topics that range from surreal fiction to the brutal truths of racial injustice in America. As a continuation of the Theatre Workshop’s 25-year partnership with Dartmouth, this summer term’s Theater 65 class worked closely with the directors, playwrights, cast and crew of the productions.

This weekend’s performances mark the end NYTW’s production calendar at Dartmouth. Jim Nicola, artistic director of the organization, said that one work is a solo piece that reexamines Emmett Till’s life and death. The second work is a play set in Korea after the Korean War. The work examines “comfort women” who were forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese army during World War II.

NYTW is a prestigious group of artists who produce shows every year and invite other artists at various stages in their careers to assist with these productions. NYTW began its relationship with Dartmouth 25 years ago. Nicola said that the relationship originally began when he identified a need to produce works in progress outside of the highly active and critical New York Theatre community. Nicola said that Dartmouth was selected because two members of the NYTW were Dartmouth alumni.

The relationship between NYTW and Dartmouth College continues to succeed at offering undergraduates the opportunity to work with acclaimed professionals in the theater world. Theater 65 students spend the end of their term working intensively with NYTW said theater professor Jamie Horton said. He added that for students interested in careers in this field, the experience of working on these productions with professional artists in a premier theater organization is invaluable.

“[NYTW] brings a wide variety of material up here from solo performances to full musicals which require all three weeks of the residency to create,” Horton said. “It’s a very exciting program, and the relationship between [NYTW] and Dartmouth is quite unique.”

Director of the Hopkins Center for the Arts, Mary Lou Aleskie, added that this program is very exciting for students because the NYTW is prestigious and some of the productions which are currently in the works could go on to achieve mass fame and recognition.

Horton said in addition to simply witnessing the production of shows, students are actively involved in the process as well.

“[NYTW] artists and the leadership have been extraordinarily generous in the way that they involve our students, and so our students are involved at every step of the process during those weeks here,” Horton said.

While the benefits that students derive from collaboration with the Theatre Workshop may be more apparent, the actors, directors and playwrights who come to Dartmouth appreciate the process as well. Aleskie said that coming to Dartmouth is a great opportunity for the workshop to have access to different resources than the ones available in New York. She added that the members of NYTW truly enjoy working with the students.

“Over and over again they tell me how smart Dartmouth students are and how wise they are and insightful and how much they learn from Dartmouth students, so it’s not just about learning for Dartmouth students; it’s also the exchange,” Aleskie said.

Part of the exchange between students and artists comes from the feedback process. The works are still in the development process, meaning that student feedback is especially valuable. Kyla Mermejo-Varga ’17, a student in Theater 65, said that students go to the shows on Saturdays as part of class time, and then they go to a critical response session afterwards.

“We discuss their pieces and how they can grow later on,” Mermejo-Varga said.

Nicola agrees that the relationship between the professionals and the students is extremely important.

“This is our 26th summer at Dartmouth, and it has become a really important and vital part for our life in the theater,” Nicola said. “There are probably thousands of artists who have come through these doors with us, and I think everyone has a great affection for our relationship here.”

Collaboration is a major focus of NYTW. This weekend brings together artists from a variety of backgrounds. For students, the diversity of the actors, writers and directors adds to the appeal of the experiences.

“New York Theatre Workshop here in general is just all about collaborating and learning how to best work with others and how to bridge gaps,” Mermejo-Varga said.

Horton said that he believes this program is an incredible opportunity for students.

“It’s been a great experience. If you’re a theater major it’s such a wonderful way to spend your summer,” Horton said. “It’s hands on learning at its best and there’s no other experience like it.”

Aleskie added that as director of the Hopkins Center, she hopes to bring more opportunities like this to campus.

“It has been an inspiration to me since my arrival [at the College], to be thinking about how we can do more of these kinds of things in other artistic disciplines,” Aleskie said. “I see this as a model that we might be able to replicate for dance or music or other important collaborations that we can bring to campus, and that’s kind of number one on my list of things we can do in the future.”

“The Lynching of Emmett Till” and “This Exquisite Corpse” will be presented on Saturday, August 19 at 4:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. respectively in the Bentley Theatre. Tickets are available on the Hopkins’ Center website or at the box office.