Undergrad Juggles Physics, Astronomy, And … Rings

By Melissa Greco Lopes
Univ. Communications

As a Take 5 scholar at the University of Rochester, Adam Lanman augmented his education in physics and astronomy with the study of equilibristics and manipulation. While these may sound like terms heard in a science lab, they’re actually the nomenclature of a different venue: the circus stage. And, thanks to Take 5, a program that allowed Lanman to spend a fifth year at Rochester tuition free conducting an independent study with the Department of Dance and Movement, he was able to immerse himself in the art of circus performance. His work culminated on Saturday, April 27, during No Elephants Allowed, a performance of skills and tricks he acquired during his year-long study.

A four-year member of the University’s Strong Jugglers, Lanman parlayed his interest in juggling into a research project that sent him to Bristol, UK for fall 2012. There, he studied with Circomedia, a school that specializes in four areas of circus performance: physical theater, partner acrobatics and tumbling, aerial skills including the trapeze, ropes, and silks, and equilibristics and manipulation, which includes juggling and balancing on unicycles and stilts. During his three months at Circomedia, he trained extensively to prepare his body for the twists, turns, and balancing moves required of a circus performer. After five weeks on basic skills, he focused on juggling, equilibristics, and manipulation.

For Lanman, the connection between circus performance and dance was obvious. “There’s a movement in contemporary circus performance that has shifted from the spectacle and awe you might see in Barnum & Bailey to a more aesthetic, artistic appeal that has similar goals to dance,” says Lanman, noting the rise in popularity of shows like Cirque du Soleil. When he returned to Rochester for the spring semester, he enrolled in courses that taught choreography, improvisation, and playwriting.

During Lanman’s performance on Saturday, he showcased a variety of juggling tricks, including a two-stage pirouette, in which he tossed three objects into the air, spun once, caught two of the objects, spun again, and caught the third. He also performed acrobatics and dance routines and showed off some newly acquired clowning skills.

A native of White Plains, N.Y., Lanman will finish his Take 5 year this May, and head to Brown University to pursue a doctoral degree in physics.

New Todd Production Puts Two In Spotlight

by Benjamin Mitchell ’13
Public Relations Intern, International Theatre Program

This fall’s production at Todd Theatre, Ubu Roi, has a large cast, which includes Stella Kammel ’12 (T5) and Lydia Jimenez ’13, playing Mama and Papa Ubu, respectively.  Jimenez is majoring in English with a concentration in theatre, and Kammel also is an English major.  Both have been active in the UR’s theatre community.

“During my four years in the program, I’ve assistant stage managed, assistant directed, acted, worked on the props design and construction and scenic painting crew, and participated in the Theatre in England seminar under Russell Peck,”  says Jimenez. “I am profoundly grateful for the endless opportunities afforded to me by the UR International Theatre Program and English Department.”

Kammel has also been heavily involved on campus.  She’s been cast in various plays at Todd Theatre and is member of the campus student theatre company, TOOP (The Opposite of People).  She also is a member of the Masters Swim Club (not to be confused with the Bachelors Swim Club).

Both students have favorite (and memorable) moments and roles.  For Kammel, one was the playing the role of Mitzi in An Absolute Turkey, a flamboyant bawdy Swiss-German woman.  “She was crazy!” exclaims Kammel.  “She had to wield an axe, and was required to impale it in a square board where [the props makers] had painted a Swiss cross.”

Luckily, Kammel hit the mark, bull’s-eye, every single performance.  “I love stage fright,” she says. “That’s the closest I’ve gotten to it here.”

Kammel also is a fan of accents and remembers diligently practicing her German accent during auditions, hoping to get the French sound out of it.  The character of Mitzi was particularly easy to understand, so rather than having to figure out the character, she was able to play with moments and go beyond what she would have been able to do otherwise.  On top of that, Nigel Maister, artistic director of the UR International Theatre Program, was directing. Kammel said she finds him “a lot of fun to work with.”

Jimenez notes that assistant directing Adding Machine: A Musical and closely watching professional actors in more than 25 plays in England has greatly informed her acting.  “I’ve gained an audible and visible understanding of directions and acting notes.  I take a bit of time to process and internalize, and when I’m given a direction, I initially understand it theoretically,” she explains. “Watching actors in rehearsal from the other side of the table in Adding Machine allowed me to see why things don’t work—I was able to hear when they were not being spontaneous in their continually downwardly inflected lines, and see how the actor’s gestures when performed devoid of impulse ‘look only like moves.’”

One might wonder where such a great passion for theatre might originate, and Jimenez explains that there are a lot of reasons why theatre is so important to her and why she is interested in it.  “For one, the theatre is one of the few venues I know of where wholehearted and uninterrupted storytelling can happen nowadays.  I can’t remember the last time I was able to tell a story without a listener being distracted by a text message or other media device.  In the theatre, listeners commit undivided attention to the actors, and actors communicate without disturbance.  It’s refreshing,” she says.

Jimenez also notes that she is “always moved and astonished to witness the enlivening of words on a page: on the actor’s side as they internalizes and vocalizes the text, and on the production side by the lighting, staging, sound and, often, video added to the text in production—all of the aspects that are not present in the little black marks on the page, but that the actors, director and designers conceive.”

Jimenez says that working under visiting guest artist Peter Karapetkov has taught her that these concepts are limitless.  “We are leaps and bounds now from where we were at our first table reading of the show.  Peter continuously changed the blocking, motivations and through-lines of the characters throughout the entire rehearsal process, up until the day before opening, and even slightly after the first performance,” she explains. “Some approaches worked better than others, and even though the constant reworking was frustrating and uncomfortable at times, these limitless interpretations are a celebration of textual ambiguity.”

In Ubu Roi, Kammel’s character, Ma Ubu, was difficult because it was the first time she’s had to sing, which was at first terrifying to her, but has subsequently become a really fun and exciting experience.  Furthermore, because she likes to have the audience like her, it’s very tough with this character, which is quite unsympathetic.  “I don’t like her [Ma Ubu] … well, I do like her, but I wouldn’t want to have lunch with her,” she says.

Kammel also remarks that there are many times in Ubu Roi when there isn’t a specific action the actors are required to perform and so they can just improvise with the space on stage, allowing new things to come out every show.  Additionally, everyone sings and is crazy at the end “which is a lot of fun and super exciting.”  As an added benefit, she gets to eat a lot of chocolate in the show; five pieces a night, and sometimes even six!

“Todd is so much fun and I’ve learned so much being part of the International Theatre Program,” Kammel says. “I feel like it’s not under-appreciated, but also not as well known as it deserves to be.  It should be a real source of pride on campus because everyone puts so much work into it, and at the end the productions are so beautiful. Come see the show! Go Todd!”

Ubu Roi runs through Saturday, Oct. 20, in Todd Theatre on the University of Rochester’s River Campus. Tickets are $7 for UR students; $10 for UR alumni, faculty and staff, and for seniors (55 and over); and $13 for the general public. Tickets may be purchased up to an hour before each performance at the box office. They also are available online at rochester.edu/theatre or by calling 585.275.4088.

In the Photo: Stella Kammel and Lydia Jimenez performing in Ubu Roi. Photo by J. Adam Fenster / University of Rochester.

Theater in England: A New Perspective over Winter Break

Univ. Communications – Theater has long been a vibrant and visible element of students’ academic and extracurricular experience at the University of Rochester. Through the International Theater Program productions at Todd, classes in the English department, student groups like The Opposite Of People (TOOP), Drama House, and many other avenues, students here have the opportunity to engage in all levels of the production and research of drama and the performing arts. But perhaps the jewel in the school’s theatrical crown is the annual Theatre in England course which has, for the past twenty-one years, brought students to London over winter break for the ultimate theater-going experience.

The course, which has been taught by Professor Russell Peck since the late 1980s, combines a condensed study abroad experience with a four-credit workload and one to three play attendances per day. “The students sometimes feel lonely if they saw only one play that day,” said Peck with a laugh. This year, twenty-two students collectively attended thirty-five plays.

Each morning starts off with breakfast and a class at the Harlingford Hotel, which has been the London home base for Peck’s group for years. The previous day’s plays are discussed, scripts sometimes read, and performances are evaluated on everything from technical execution to metaphysical issues.

“It’s really nice to be in a room with thirty intellectual people who have all seen the show and to be able to have a multifaceted conversation about all the different aspects of it,” said Jessica Chinelli ’12, an English major with a concentration in theater. Chinelli was formerly the artistic director of TOOP and has worked on Todd productions in both a technical and performance capacity.

After class, the students have a few hours to relax and explore the city before the matinee performances begin. Peck schedules as many plays as he can, some mandatory for all students and many optional, providing a range of choices for each day. Seeing such a large number of plays can be overwhelming, but ultimately the program pushes students to make connections and develop perspective that cannot emerge from seeing just one play.

“The course really builds on itself,” Peck explained. “It’s always good to see several plays together, whether they have anything to do with each other or not.” Though he does not plan the program based on any particular theme or common element, the students quickly begin to weave the connecting threads on their own.

“I think that probably more than any course it helps people to see and to recognize how visually oriented their mental activity is,” Peck said. “They learn to see and judge things from different points of view.”

The students participating come from all academic backgrounds. This year, less than half were English majors. Some have been interested or involved in theater for years and others enter a theater for the first time in their lives when they arrive in London.

“It’s probably one of the greatest experiences that I will ever have in my life,” said Dongdong Han ’12, who is majoring in molecular genetics and had no knowledge of theater prior to the trip. “I know that the theater majors that went, and the folks who are interested in theater really got a lot out of it, but for somebody like me it was a tremendous learning experience.”

Though he plans to pursue graduate school and a further career in research, Han believes that it is vital for scientists to develop interests beyond the lab. “I know a lot of my science and engineering friends have a thing, kind of this unnatural fear for the humanities and I think this is the best way to get someone into theater with no background and it’s one of the best ways to learn,” he explained. “I’ve always believed that the scientific field itself is not meant to stand in isolation. In other words, if you look at all of the top scientists, all of them cultivate [an interest for] something that’s not in the sciences.”

For chemistry major Jonathan Raybin ’12, the program was such a fruitful experience in his freshman year that he went this year for a second time. Since the program of plays is different every year, the course has the advantage of offering a unique experience to every group of students. Raybin has always loved theater but his major curriculum afforded little time to become more academically involved. Nevertheless, he finds that theater enriches his scientific studies. “The analytical skills you use watching are completely applicable. It’s also just…it can be a relief to not be thinking about science!”

“It teaches people how to read and to assess their reading, whether they’re science people or brain and cognitive people, or linguists, and it teaches them how to look,” Peck explained. “As long as they’re alive and people [this is something] that will have bearing on them.”

The group attends performances in a wide range of venues from black box theaters, to small fringe auditoriums, to the world’s most technically advanced Olivier Theater, which is part of the National Theater complex. There, the students even got a backstage tour.

The trip also includes a visit to the legendary Stratford-upon-Avon to view Shakespearean plays in their original setting and attendance to the New Year’s Eve mass at Westminster Abbey. Students sit in the choir and observe the performance of religious rites which are at the root of modern English and French theatrical traditions.

Besides the abundant number of theaters and acting companies in London, another advantage to conducting the program there is the affordability of the experience of British theater. For example, plays at the National Theater are LE12.50 (about $20). “In New York for that play, if it comes to New York, we’d be paying between $100 and $125,” said Peck.

Students do pay for their own air fare but since the class counts as an overload of credits for the fall semester and students sign up in the fall, financial aid packages apply to the cost of the credit hours. Some limited financial aid also is available to cover the $2,750 fee for housing and play tickets. “I’ve been saving for this program since I heard abut it as a freshman,” said Chinelli. “But I made it and Professor Peck was really great about scholarships.”

She added enthusiastically: “It’s a once in a lifetime experience and it will change the way that you view things. [For the University] it’s not a financial investment, it’s an investment in the students, and that should tell you what it is worth.”

For more information about study abroad visit http://www.rochester.edu/college/abroad/.

Article written by Maya Dukmasova, a Take 5 Scholar at the University of Rochester and an intern at University Communications. She majored in philosophy and religion and focused her Take 5 year on researching the way American media covers current events in the Muslim world. An aspiring journalist, Dukmasova has freelanced for Rochester Magazine, the Phoenix New Times, and the Daily News Egypt in Cairo. She also maintains two blogs, one devoted to culture and society in Russia (www.out-of-russia.com) and the other to photography (www.myorientalism.com).

TOOP Follows Up Its Success with Another Exciting Staging

Univ. Communications –  After staging its first production this semester, The Opposite of People (TOOP) at the University of Rochester is already making plans to follow up its success with another show. TOOP is the only student-run theatre troupe on campus, and serves as an alternative venue for theatrical performances that are totally directed, produced, and performed by students. Its first play of the semester, Baby with the Bathwater, has just wrapped up its three shows, and the troupe is setting its sights on the next production.

Each semester, TOOP stages two to three plays. Baby with the Bathwater had three performances on Oct. 27, Oct. 28, and Oct. 30. Written by American playwright Christopher Durang, it’s a surreal, provocative play that highlights some of the absurd features of modern parenting. When asked why they decided to stage this play in particular, freshman Nate Damon said, “The play is so strange and weird, but at the same time it’s accessible and easy to just sit and watch. It’s hilarious and any audience can enjoy it, but it has that factor of being different that we love.”

TOOP is especially remarkable on campus for the dedication of its students. Its members are marked by a commitment to the arts and their enthusiasm for their productions. Although it collaborates frequently the Theatre Department, it’s the group members who drive the productions. Take Five Scholar James Eles ’11 calls it “A real student collaboration. Members nominate plays that they’d like to direct, which they produce and then perform. When one of our own writes a play, we all contribute by running it through workshops. The final result is a grown, living piece.”

So what’s next? TOOP is working on its next production, Threading, a modern take on the Greek myth of the three Fates. “This is my first experience with a student-written work, and it’s exciting. The work is organic and constantly evolving, and when we recently cemented the script, the possibilities started exploding. There’s really nothing else like a new work.” says Damon, who plays Moros, the Greek god of Doom. “We’re already super excited!”

Threading will be performed on at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 17 and Friday, Nov. 18, with a matinee at 3 p.m. on the Sunday, Nov. 19. The show take place in Todd Theatre and entrance is free.

TOOP members perform a scene from Baby with the Bathwater

Article written by Dan Wang, a sophomore at Rochester, who studies philosophy and economics. Photos courtesy of TOOP.