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.

Italian Actor Leads Workshop, Performs at Rochester

By Caitlin Mack
Univ. Communications

Students at the University of Rochester will have the opportunity to learn from Italian actor and translator Mario Pirovano during a workshop on “The Art of Storytelling.”   The workshop, which is from noon to 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 10,  in Drama House, features a two-hour segment in English from noon to 2 p.m. and one-hour segment in Italian from 2 to 3 p.m.  Pirovano aims to show the audience how “to conquer scenic space,” “use the body to support the voice,” and “show how one can tell a story without scenes, music, videos, or costumes.”

Pirovano also will host a showing of Francis, the Holy Jester (1997), a play by Nobel Prize Winner in Literature and renowned Italian playwright, Dario Fo, at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 10, in the sanctuary of the Interfaith Chapel.  Pirovano, a long time disciple, collaborator, and artistic heir of Fo’s, translated his masterpiece “Lu santu jullare Francesco” (1999) into English as “Francis, the Holy Jester.”  Wednesday’s performance will be the first time the play is performed for an American audience. The event is free and open to the public and includes refreshments and a book signing in the lobby following the performance.

According to Donatella Stocchi-Perucchio, associate professor of Italian and organizer of Pirovano’s appearance at the U of R, the event “serves the aims of the Humanities Project as a point of intersection of several disciplines, departments, and programs, including Italian language and literature, medieval studies, religion, theater, music, and translation studies.”

She also hopes to “attract students of the Italian language towards theater as a powerful tool for language and culture acquisition.”

The event is sponsored by the Humanities Project, University of Rochester, and co-sponsored by the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures, the MLC Italian Program, the Department of History, the Cluster on Pre-Modern Studies, the J. H. Newman Chair in Roman Catholic Studies, The Drama House, The Department of Modern Languages and Cultures of the Rochester Institute of Technology, and an anonymous donor.

Rochester Senior Finds Success on the Stage

International Theatre Program – “I came into school thinking I was going to be pre-med,” Andrew Polec, KEY ’12, said when asked about his interest in pursuing an MFA in acting.  After his short-lived science kick, he became interested in business. It wasn’t until his sophomore year that he fully realized his passions for English, theatre, and music. Since then, Polec has finished two clusters in biology and psychology, doubled majored in music and English with a concentration in theatre, and completed an honors thesis on families in American drama. He also sang for four years in the dreamy, all-male a cappella group, the Midnight Ramblers. But these days he’s known on campus for his roles in nine UR International Theatre Program (URITP) productions, and as the lead singer in the popular band, Khat House. No longer looking forward to a career in medicine, Polec is finishing up a fifth year as a KEY Scholar, and performing in the final play of his undergraduate career, Adding Machine: A Musical, at Todd Theatre.

Polec has been busy this year. In October, he starred in URITP’s production of An Absolute Turkey just as his Kauffman Entrepreneurial Year was getting underway.  His project: starting a student-run record label at the University of Rochester, signing a band, recording an album, and releasing the record.  Polec and his colleagues were successful in all of these aims.  The label is called “yoUR Record Label,” and they signed Polec’s own band, Khat House.  They released their EP, “Welcome to Khat House,” at a sold-out concert on April 14. They also performed on April 27 as part of Dandelion Day’s performance line-up. They have sold a lot of albums, Polec said, and they hope to sell many more. “The life lessons that I’ve learned while being with that band have been nothing short of tremendous,” Polec said, reflecting on his time with Khat House.

The future of the band is currently up in the air as this coming fall Polec will pursue an MFA in acting at Brown University. Unsure of the extent to which the program will prepare him for dealing with the business of being an actor, Polec expressed his gratitude for all he has learned at UR about the arts industry. “Learning the process of how to get gigs, how to fund recording and album and all the nit-picky stuff in between has showed me that business managers are really important.  And agents.  No matter who you are as an artist, you better know the business, or you better have a friend who knows that business cold.”

Having had a good deal of experience learning the nitty-gritty about show business as a Key Scholar, Polec is eager to start learning the artist trade this fall. The undisputed star of URITP, he’ll be entering into a group of peers that will undoubtedly be made up of 15 other college theatre program stars. “It’s good to be with a bunch of talented people, because then you can see how you are able to improve and grow,” he said.

“Andrew is a born performer and he’s also a wonderful singer.  I’ve watched him grow over the years as his range has expanded,” said Nigel Maister, artistic director of URITP, who has been working with Polec since his freshman year. “I think that an MFA program will be able to hone—on a technical level—his skills as a general performer and deepen his understanding of the process and needs of acting and character development.”

Polec’s undergraduate acting career has come full circle in the past few months.  He performed in URITP’s first musical production, Hello Again, his freshman year and he ends his tenure here starring in its second. He leads a focused ensemble of remarkably mature and talented performers in what is a visually alarming, intellectually challenging, and genuinely entertaining production.  Maister said of Polec’s performance as Mr. Zero in Adding Machine, “[He] shows a more controlled and dramatically focused side of his abilities.”

Polec said that the role has “been a great final note to go out on” as he looks forward to working towards his dream of performing on Broadway.  The future of this soon-to-be-UR-graduate, it would seem, promises to “add up” to quite a lot.

Article written by Leah Barish ’12, a public relations intern with the International Theatre Program and a member of theater troupe, The Opposite of People.

In The Photos: Jacob Goritski ’14 (back) and Andrew Polec appear in Adding Machine: The Musical. Photos courtesy of J. Adam Fenster, University Photographer.

University to Participate in First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival

Univ. Communications – Rochester’s East End district and the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music will be at the center of the First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival when it opens with entertainment headliners and self-produced shows from Sept. 20 to 23. Students, faculty, and staff are encouraged to apply by April 14 to share their talents in theater, dance, visual arts, music, comedy, and other creative pursuits.

“The First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival is about inspiring even more creativity throughout Rochester’s large and talented artistic community, as well as attracting a large, diverse audience for their work,” said University President Joel Seligman. “The University has always been a passionate advocate for strengthening this city, and we believe that this festival will do just that.”

Erica Fee, who is the festival’s producer, a native of Victor, and a University alumna, described the independent shows that sprang up around the official 1947 Edinburgh International Festival in Scotland as the start of the fringe festival movement. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is now the world’s largest arts festival and runs for a month.

“Rochester’s four-day Fringe will also have that fun ‘expect-the-unexpected feel’ while showcasing everything from theater and dance, to visual arts and music, to comedy and family entertainment,” explained Fee. “There will truly be something for everyone!”

Individual artists, groups, and producers of all types can apply online at www.rochesterfringe.com for a place at the festival’s official venues, which include such locations as Kilbourn Hall and Hatch Recital Hall at the Eastman School, Java’s, and the Rochester Museum and Science Center’s Strasenburgh Planetarium. More East End locations will be added. Applicants also have the option to “Bring Your Own Venue” by discovering a location and gaining permission to use a site within the festival’s footprint.

Fringe festivals number about 200 worldwide with 20 in the United States, festival organizers say. Those closest to Rochester are in Toronto and Philadelphia. The First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival will be the second location for New York State after New York City’s.

The festival’s board of directors includes representatives from the Rochester Downtown Development Corp., the University of Rochester, the Eastman School of Music, Rochester Institute of Technology, Boylan Code LLC, and Mengel Metzger Barr. Many local cultural institutions support the effort, including Geva Theatre Center, the George Eastman House, and Garth Fagan Dance, as well as newer groups such as PUSH Physical Theatre and Method Machine.

To submit your show or for more information, visit the festival website at www.rochesterfringe.com, follow them on Twitter at @rochesterfringe, and like them on Facebook.

Article written by Valerie Alhart, humanities press officer in University Communications.

 

Rochester Fringe Festival logo courtesy of www.rochesterfringe.com

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.