Beginning this week, the Department of Theater and Dance will present a selection of senior studio projects in Memorial Hall’s Wish Theater and in other spaces across campus. Featuring original works, improvisation and new arrangements, the series will highlight the talents of each student in the culmination of their theatrical careers at Bowdoin.
This year the Department of Theater and Dance presented students with the opportunity to work on studio projects in an advanced theater seminar rather than as an independent study. The course provided students creating capstone projects in playwriting, directing, acting and design with the opportunity to meet weekly as a group to discuss and present their work. The class is part of the new performing arts major, which was offered to students for the first time this semester.
This weekend, seniors Sophie De Bruijn and Collin Litts will perform their studio project titled “______: The Improvised Musical.”
“We’re doing musical improv, so [like] a full story with multiple characters, but it’s a two-person show. So basically we’ll get a suggestion from the audience, and then we’ll perform a 45-minute to an hour set,” said Litts.
Litts and De Bruijn, who are both members of the improvisational group “Office Hours,” noted that their project has presented them with a new challenge: improvising dialogue and comedy while simultaneously maintaining a cohesive musical.
“You can’t half-ass a full-fledged song and dance number. That’s something that I think we can run into trouble a bit with improv, because it’s not committing fully, not committing emotionally,” laughed De Bruijn. “But in a musical there’s no choice but to commit. So that’s been really fun, just playing it all out there. Because I think in actual musicals when a song happens, it’s because the feeling is so high that it can’t be expressed through word, so translating that to an improv setting has been really fun.”
Senior Jae-Yeon Yoo’s project “Puberty II” also provides an unconventional take on the classic musical. Yoo orchestrated and arranged the show, which is sponsored by the Asian Students Association and features text by playwright Stefani Kuo and music by singer-songwriter Mitski. Scout Gregerson ’18, Amber Barksdale ’18 and Jae-Min Yoo ’19 star in the show.
The musical explores themes of interracial romance, beauty standards and fetishization through the fictionalized stories of three Asian-American women.
“Through dramatized narratives of three Asian-American women, the show explores themes of interracial romance, beauty standards and fetishization,” wrote Yoo in an email to the Orient. “I don’t think freshman-me would ever have had the strength to talk [or] present openly about Asian-American experiences, especially anything regarding the hookup culture here. It’s been really empowering.”
Cole Burkhardt ’18 took a different approach with his show “Committed,” which he describes as a “concert with bits of stand-up thrown in.”
“My songs … very much tap into relationships for people our age, my own struggles with anxiety and depression and I think more common themes of anxiety and depression in people of this age,” he said.
Burkhardt will be one of the first Bowdoin students to graduate with a performing arts degree, which he will complete with his act this Friday.
“It’s definitely something that’s really important to me and I think to the department, just kind of getting these shows out and giving us seniors an opportunity to kind of work on our own original stuff and put out something that is essentially ours, that we chose, started from the ground up and worked through,” he said.
Besides allowing students to pursue their academic interests in theater, the theater and dance department also fosters close relationships between faculty and students and allows students to appreciate each other’s work.
“We’ve been in this studio class in its guinea pig stage, but it’s been really fun to watch other people work and watch other people’s projects develop,” said De Bruijn. “I think that one of the [great] things about the department being small is you get a lot of attention, because not that many people are doing it, so you get a lot of resources per person, which has been nice.”
Isabelle Hallé contributed to this report.