News

September 6, 2011

College Theater Explores Civil Rights on Stage and in Classroom

College Theater presented the play "Ubu Roi" at the new Williams Arts Plaza last season.

During its 2011-12 season, Lafayette College Theater will present the hit musical Rent, along with a play that introduced the word “robot” into the English language; a play about the homophobia-fueled murder of a college student; and several other productions which all tie into the theme of “Righting Civil Wrongs.”

This season is also notable because it is the second year of the new theater major at Lafayette.

“As the major continues to grow, we hope to establish stronger bonds with our students and with the Easton community through theater programming,” says Michael O’Neill, associate professor of English and director of theater. “Throughout its history, theater has been a leading force in shaping community values and providing public spaces where important issues can be dramatized and debated. During the coming year, we want to devote more effort and focus on the crucial ways theater contributes to the entire culture of the campus and of our students.”

The season begins Sept. 28—Oct. 1 with a staged reading of The Laramie Project, by Moises Kaufman and The Tectonic Theater Project. The play examines the impact of the 1998 murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard on the town where it occurred, Laramie, Wyo. Based on actual interviews with citizens of Laramie, the play explores the effects the murder had on the town and the ways Matthew Shepard’s death started to change the way Americans think about gay people. The production is being directed by Suzanne Westfall, professor of English.

Last season's production of "A Thousand Cranes"

Performances of The Laramie Project will be followed by open discussion sessions where audience members can share their thoughts and feelings about the issues raised by the play.  Bringing the season’s theme full circle, College Theater will also produce a staged reading of The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later in the spring. The unusual new play returns to Laramie to re-interview residents and explores how things have changed since Shepard’s death.

Many of the season’s productions have come about through classes or student research projects.

In mid-November, students in O’Neill’s directing class will put on Tenn, a collection of one act plays drawn from the work of Tennessee Williams. The production of Rossum’s Universal Robots by Karel Capek in March is being staged in conjunction with O’Neill’s Values and Sciences/Technology seminar. The course explores plays that examine the changing assumptions of right and wrong in civic discourse brought about by advances in science and technology. The production will feature a musical score by Patrick Kelley ’09.

“One of the many themes tackled in the play is the loss of human dignity and civil rights as fewer and fewer people make most of the money and use up our resources, and try anything—including genetic engineering–to create a new kind of human being that will always accept unacceptable conditions,” O’Neill says.

Brett Billings '12 in last year's production of "An Enemy of the People."

English major Brett Billings ’12 (Marion, Kan.) is writing and directing an original radio play being performed in February. A recipient of the College’s Creative and Performing Arts Fellowship, Billings also directed last season’s staged reading of the radio theater classic War of the Worlds.

As part of his honors thesis, theater major Daniel Ricken ’12 (Woodbury, N.Y.) will direct the dark comedy Speech and Debate in April. The play wrestles with the effects gossip and the internet have on civil rights and personal freedoms. In addition, the season will feature a series of Fringe Fridays throughout the year, in which students will perform independent and class performance projects.

A final highlight of the 2011-12 season will be the production of the musical Rent by Jonathan Larson Nov. 2-5. The performance is directed and choreographed by Mary Jo Lodge, assistant professor of English, with musical direction by Tom DiGiovanni ’96, pit band conductor, and vocal direction by Eric Van Hoven, instructor of music.

Rent, in addition to being one of the most groundbreaking musicals of the last 20 years, is a great fit for Lafayette and our theme of Righting Civil Wrongs,” Lodge says. “Rent is about being an outsider and finding a place to fit in—something nearly all college students can identify with.  In addition, at a time when gay rights are at the forefront of many of our political conversations, Rent brings GLBT couples to the forefront and portrays a fictional world where characters’ rights are not determined by their sexuality.”

College Theater 2011-12 Schedule

  • Sept. 28–Oct. 1, 8 p.m.: The Laramie Project on the Williams Center main stage
  • Oct. 14–15, Noon: Bread and Puppet Theater: Man=Carrot Circus on The Quad and downtown Easton
  • Nov. 2–5, 8 p.m.: Rent on the Williams Center main stage
  • Nov. 17–18, 8 p.m.: Tenn in the Black Box Theater
  • Feb. 10 and 11, 8 p.m.: Radio Play in the Black Box Theater
  • Feb. 29-March 1-3, 8 p.m.: Rossum’s Universal Robots on the Williams Center main stage
  • April 18–21, 8 p.m.: Speech and Debate in the Black Box Theater

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