Collaborative theater at Voxfest

by Joyce Lee | 7/6/17 5:15pm

GMBS group photographed in Hanover, New Hampshire on Wednesday, July 5, 2017. Copyright 2017 Robert C Strong II
by Robert C Strong II / The Dartmouth

At a 2010 Christmas party in New York, three Dartmouth alumni considered the dilemma of finding both the resources and space in the city to rehearse their new projects and ideas. Six years later, Matthew Cohn ’08, Thom Pasculli ’05 and Kate Mulley ’05 have returned to Dartmouth to open the fifth annual VoxFest, a week-long showcase of new projects by various alumni of the College’s Theater department that collaborate with faculty, students and locals of Hanover. Originating from its creators’ desire to workshop and rehearse in an open space, VoxFest has evolved as a way to connect alumni with students and expose students to different aspects of theater production, Cohn and Mulley said.

“My parents had just moved to Hanover so it seemed like a great, possible solution,” Mulley said. “When we asked Dartmouth for a space where we could come workshop a play, they offered us Bentley Theater, where we ended up doing a fully staged production.”

The production was so successful with faculty and students that the plan was to do a similar workshop every term, she said. However, travel complications caused Pasculli to come up with the idea of an annual, week-long theater festival where alumni would be invited to innovate and collaborate with each other and students, Cohn said.

“It just felt like a good thing to keep doing, and it fit well into the curriculum of Theater 65,” Mulley said.

Theater 65, or Summer Theater Lab, taught by theater professor James Horton, is a course in which students are matched according to their interests with a variety of productions, including those of VoxFest, Horton said.

“Students are involved as actors, technicians, stage managers and other wide variety of roles,” he said. “Association in [Summer Theater Lab] have gone on to become professional associations, and the connections established has great promise and tangible results.”

Horton said that students get to witness firsthand the full development and creation of theater productions. She added that they additionally experience the full value and range of theatrical content.

“Students here are so smart and creative, and what we can do with people who’ve trained in all sorts of different backgrounds is introduce them to students who are talented and hungry for new things,” Cohn said. “As Dartmouth alumni, we all speak the same language. They work with us and we work with them as professionals and equals.”

Students who have worked with VoxFest in previous summers have returned as alumni, such as Debi Xiadani ’15, who will be one of the leaders for the production “Book Club” on Friday, along with Cohn and Olivia Gilliatt ’08.

Mulley and Cohn said that VoxFest has not only provided a space for alumni to workshop and rehearse, but also a space to network in the same place where they began as artists, and with new, burgeoning student artists.

“When I was a young alum, I didn’t have that many [collaborative] relationships [with alumni],” Mulley said. “But with the four students rehearsing the play I’ve written, the space creates the sort of relationship you don’t get from a classroom or simply connecting to a random alum.”

Alumni may also benefit from having students in their productions, as with Mulley, whose work “Trash” takes place in a boarding school. She said that it was helpful to have student actors closer in age to high school aged characters, adding a visceral emotion to the play.

Mulley’s work is based on a phrase that exists within the “underground” preparatory school community: “Pass the trash.” This phrase alludes to what happens after a teacher is found having an affair with a student and is subsequently fired, but also given a letter of recommendation for their next job.

“I was really interested in how that happens and exploring the psyche of someone serially dating students, as well as how that can be dramatized,” Mulley said. “I was also interested in seeing how people try to retain their youth, when it’s appropriate to behave like an adult, and the power dynamic between teachers and students [as well as] when that line gets blurred.”

Cohn, who will be involved in “Book Club,” said that the work, based on Gialetti’s Book Club theater techniques, will also require a lot of collaboration between students involved in the production, alumni and other professionals. The play will be an example of devised theater, where the production is developed through experimentation and collaboration during rehearsal.

“We’ll be generating the content in the rehearsal room, rather than bringing it in through a more traditional method like a written script,” he said.

Gialetti’s Book Club theater also involves dramatizing texts. For this week’s production, the text will be the surreal short story “As They Rode Along the Edge” by Leonora Carrington. The story involves fantastical elements, therefore Gialetti’s production will require the cast and crew to answer the question: How do we stage an impossible thing?

“We’ll just have to create the world,” Cohn said.

The first event of VoxFest, Vox Barter, was on Wednesday at the BEMA. The showcase of alumni productions begin at 5 p.m. on Friday at the Bentley Theater, with the presentation of “Live Feed” by Carol Brown ’12, Max Hunter ’13, Mia Jessup ’12 and Jay Ben Markson ’10. “Book Club” will premiere directly afterwards at 8 p.m. Saturday evening, “Trash” will be performed at 4:30 p.m. followed by “The Cure” at 7:30 p.m., both in the Bentley Theater.