Spotlight on THEA 65: Theater students and alumni tell stories in unconventional formats

From a devised seance in Sanborn Library to a new musical on the end of history, the Dartmouth theater community keeps artistry alive on campus.

by Armita Mirkarimi | 7/14/23 2:05am

by Hannah Li / The Dartmouth

THEA 65, ‘Summer Theater Lab’ — a course offered only in the summer by the theater department  — exposes students to experiential theater through student, alumni and professional original works. The course is divided into three projects: VoxLab, Frost award-winning, student-written plays and the New York Theater Workshop. 

Led by Nicolle Allen ’16 and Matthew Cohn ’08, the class’s first component is VoxLab — a “laboratory in residence at Dartmouth College, focused on fostering projects by Dartmouth alumni,” according to its website. VoxLab is produced by Vox Theater, a Dartmouth Theater alumni community. The theater company was founded 12 years ago by Cohn, Kate Mulley ’05 and Thom Pasculli ’05 to bring writers, directors and designers together to produce new theatrical works.

“We wanted to put on a bunch of projects and bring in tons of talented people,” Cohn said. “The theater department suggested integrating ours with [THEA 65, ‘Summer Theater Lab’] in the early days. This is our eleventh year on campus, and we couldn’t be more thrilled.”

Theater professor Robert David Grant, who currently teaches THEA 65, said he sees the course as an opportunity to allow course participants to be “more like artists than students.” 

“I offer prompts and weekly tools to use to get [students’] creative energies flowing, and then try to give them agency every time they enter a room to think both critically and imaginatively about what other people are bringing in, how they go about solving certain problems and what tools they are using to delve into the issues or dilemmas,” Grant said. 

Tejal Schwartz ’25, majoring in film modified with theater, said she took the class for its emphasis on performance and connection to the “real industry.” 

“The class really allows you to connect with people who now work in that industry, and who can actually tell you what it’s like,” Schwartz said. “One of my highlights was definitely the VoxLab performances.” 

This year’s VoxLab weekend took place from July 8 to 9, placing three distinct works on display: “A Rapping in the Walls,” a devised seance in Sanborn library, “you don’t have to be alone (but you can if you want to be),” a live arts laboratory and “Tracy Triceratops and the End of History,” a new musical. 

Eva Hymes ’25 performed as Kate Sanborn in “A Rapping in the Walls.” The piece was devised by Nick Camillo, Olivia Gilliatt ’08, Talley Gale, Kerry Warren, Alice Oliveira ’26 and Yifei Liu ’26. This was Hymes’s first devised theater performance — a theatrical work stemming from a collaborative and improvisational performance ensemble. 

The actors of the piece sat around the table in Sanborn’s Wren Room and wrote the script, devising a performed “seance” complete with tech pieces and props. Hymes played Kate Sanborn in “the other room, pretending to be a ghost over a conch.”

“There’s a whole bit where … someone from the audience would pick up the conch because it was ringing like a telephone,” Hymes said. 

Elaine Xiao ’25, another member of THEA 65, performed in the mental health art installation, “you don't have to be alone (but you can if you want to be)” by Laura Neill ’13, Molly Dineley and Lily Easter ’25, with support from Mental Health Union peer support. 

“The original idea stemmed from … helping people with trauma find a source of healing,” Xiao said. “We had a room of destruction and a one-minute scream, where we just sat in a room and screamed nonstop for a minute. There were … affirmation rooms, too.” 

Schwartz performed in “Tracy Triceratops and the End of History” by Robert Leverett ’16 and directed by Liza Couser ’17. 

“The script was being changed and added to on the spot, which was so different than any other theater experience I was used to,” Schwartz said. 

According to Hymes, the “novelty” of THEA 65 lies in making art in “real-time.” Students are given the opportunity to not only engage with alumni works, but also support the work of students and other professionals. 

Many THEA 65 students recently auditioned for the winning plays of the Frost Playwriting Contest: “Flinch” by Kamila Boga ’25, “Last Night in Plainswood” by Ore James ’25 and “Come Back Down” by Jonah Manso ’25.

“The variety of work we get to engage in is truly remarkable,” Xiao said. “We get to read the student Frost plays but also be involved with the New York Theater Workshop, where professionals from the industry come to campus and workshop their pieces.” 

Two new pieces will be presented at New York Theater Workshop this term: “Laowang,” written by Alex Lin and directed by Joshua Kahan Brody, along with “Becoming Eve,” written by Em Weinstein and directed by Tyne Rafaeli.  

According to Schwartz, everyone in THEA 65 is “ready to work” and “excited to be there.” The group is a community of artists committed to the pieces they are working on. 

“It’s a big time commitment, but that’s an investment in these stories that I am willing to make,” Schwartz said.