Arts and Entertainment | Theater

Theater guide: student productions this spring

  • Tianyue Sun / Senior Staff Photographer
    Musical Interlude | "Duets of Classic Operas" directors Chris Browner, CC '16 and Spectator opera critic, left, and Mariel O'Connell, BC '14, talk about their upcoming show.

Winter break might have just ended, but campus theater groups have already begun casting their spring shows. From Shakespeare to “Godspell” and a collaboration between the Black Theatre Ensemble and Columbia Musical Theatre Society, there’s no shortage of productions this semester. 

King’s Crown Shakespeare Troupe
“The Tempest”
Director: Alex Katz, CC ’14
When: May 1-3
Where: Outdoors, all over campus
Cost: Free
There is always a certain magic surrounding KCST’s spring show, which takes place outdoors at night and, thanks to a no-cut policy, features a large ensemble cast. The dream-like quality of the show will be amplified in the troupe’s choice of “The Tempest”­—a work set on a remote island featuring characters that include the magician Prospero and a host of ethereal creatures.

File Photo
All the King's Men | The cast of "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)" seek out adventure in the King's Crown Shakespeare Troupe's performance last semester.

“Alex was very attached to the show and he’s bringing a vision that focuses a lot on magical realism elements,” producer Lena Rogow, CC ’14, said. “And I think that works very well with the spring show’s nighttime, magical nature that it tends to use.”

Rogow worked with fellow co-producer Amelia Lembeck, BC ’14 to produce past KCST shows including “Romeo and Juliet” and “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).”Katz, president of the troupe’s executive board and a KCST veteran, directed a piece for KCST’s 2012 “ShakeShorts ShortShakes” anthology and co-directed KCST’s “Cymbeline” last spring.

Last semester, Katz was onstage in his thesis performance in the Barnard Theatre Department production of “Katzelmacher,” and he has worked as a producer on Egg & Peacock, a 24-hour competition during which participants write, rehearse, and perform an original play. 

Black Theatre Ensemble and Columbia Musical Theatre Society
“Passing Strange”
Director: Katie Cacouris, CC ’15
When: April 24-26
Where: Glicker-Milstein Theatre
Cost: $5 with a CUID 
“Passing Strange” marks the first collaboration between the Black Theatre Ensemble and the Columbia Musical Theatre Society. Cacouris, who directed CMTS’s “Hair” in 2012 and the student-written musical “Modehouse Six” last semester, said the original idea for a joint performance came from the presidents of BTE and CMTS. Although the groups have distinct styles, “Passing Strange” provided a bridge.

“The former president of CMTS approached me about it randomly,” BTE President Bintu Conteh, CC ’14, said. “I’m really excited. Our group is small and not very well-known.” Cacouris described “Passing Strange,” which was written by black singer-songwriter Mark Stewart, known professionally as Stew, as “a blues-rock musical about finding yourself in new places and struggling for identity along the way.”

The show focuses on a black teenager who leaves behind his mother and his life in Los Angeles to travel to Europe in search of meaning. During his time abroad, the main character “articulates what he gives up.”

“The style of music and the content are divergent from typical pieces of musical theater and this show, I hope, will widen people’s interest in musical theater beyond what they might easily recognize to be…profound Broadway shows,” said Cacouris.

BTE is also accepting submissions for its Spring One-Acts until Feb. 1. Send your submissions to cu.blacktheatre@gmail.com.

Columbia University Players
“Mother Courage and Her Children”
Director: Julien Hawthorne, CC ’14
When: March 7-9
Where: Minor Latham Playhouse
Cost: $5 with CUID
“Mother Courage,” a Bertolt Brecht play written in response to the invasion of Poland, tells the story of Anna Fierling, a traveling canteen woman who attempts to reconcile the travails of wartime capitalism and motherhood. Hawthorne, who directed “The Maids” last fall, said that “Mother Courage” is “one of the great political dramas.”

“It’s one of the great plays about war, it’s one of the most intelligent descriptions of civilization’s infatuation with war,” Hawthorne said. “It articulates one’s inability to be a moral actor under wartime capitalism.”  With six weeks until opening night and a larger cast, Hawthorne says that his directing process will be different than when he worked on “The Maids.”

“It’s going to be quick and intense and it’s going to be a challenge in the best kind of way for the creative team,” Hawthorne said.

“Next Fall”
Director: Cristina Angeles, BC ’16
When: April 10-12
Where: Lerner Black Box
Cost: $5 with a CUID
Narrated through a series of flashbacks, “Next Fall” is set in a hospital waiting room after one of the characters has been rushed in from a car accident as his family and friends wait for him to regain consciousness.

Angeles, who directed NOMADS’ “The Gift” and assistant-directed CUP’s “Playgrounds” last semester, said that the play can serve as an accessible way to talk about important issues like religion, sexuality, and city living. “It’s about really social and current issues that I think a lot of people can talk about after the show,” Angeles said. And I think each character is so interesting and different and alive that it will be so much fun and a great adventure for us to put on as well as really relatable for audiences to watch.”

CUPAL’s Special Project
“Say Anything: An Improvised Play”
Director: Mae Smith, CC ’14
When: March 6-8
Where: Lerner Black Box
Cost: TBA
“Say Anything” is a semi-improvised play, with characters built from the ground up based on the actors’ individual experiences and goals. “We came up with four very loose character motivations or goals. We didn’t ascribe age or gender, or anything other than basically one-line desire for each of those characters,” said Smith, who directed NOMADS’ “Expedition” and Latenite’s fall anthology during her junior year. “It really gives an opportunity for naturalistic theater and to really get genuine human reactions because the actors have to bring a lot of themselves to the characters necessarily because they’re building up,” Smith said.  

New Opera Project: New Opera Workshop
Begun as a CUPAL special project in spring 2013, The New Opera Workshop produces opera scenes and original student work. Encouraged by the success of previous performances, NOW financial officer Hannah Gorman, CC ’16, and communications officer Isabella Lavorni, BC ’15 were eager to continue producing shows.  As of this semester, NOW is an official CUPAL member organization.

“Duets of Classic Operas”
Director: Chris Browner, CC ’16 and Spectator Opera Critic
When: April 10-12
Where: Glicker-Milstein Theatre
Cost: TBA
“‘Duets’ is fairly similar on the outside in that it’s all pretty much standard rep stuff—languages, styles, composers, scene types,” Browner said, comparing his upcoming show to the New Opera Workshop. “What’s different, though, is that the scenes are very connected by that theme of duets. It’s a theme that gives us enough freedom to give us that big range that we love to have.Some selections include “La ci darem” from “Don Giovanni,” “Sull’aria” from “Le Nozze di Figaro,” “Pa-Pa-Pa Duet” from “Zauberflöte,” “Vivere io non potrò” from “La Donna del lago,” and “The Flower Duet” from “Lakmé.”

Scenes written by Columbia students
Director: Mariel O’Connell, BC ’14
When: April 24-26
Where: Glicker-Milstein Theatre
Cost: TBA
This collection of scenes, which focus on everything from Bach to Edward Snowden, will capture a variety of subjects and musical styles. “Collaborating with composers and librettists is going to have its own challenges and its own rewards. As changes happen, you kind of have to roll with the punches,” O’Connell said. “You can understand the work more deeply by having their input and find things that would be more difficult to come to otherwise. It’s my first time directing anything, but I’ve loved opera forever.”

Columbia Musical Theatre Society
“Godspell”
Director: Mariana Benjamin
When: March 13-15
Where: TBD
Cost: TBD
Fresh off of their fall productions of “Carousel” and “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” CMTS is bringing the rock musical about Jesus to campus under the direction of Mariana Benjamin, BC ’16. Benjamin directed the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” shadowcast  for CMTS.The show’s creative team is holding auditions through Thursday night in Hamilton Hall from 8-11 p.m.

New and Original Plays Acted and Directed by Students (NOMADS)
One-Act Play Festival
When: March 26-29
Where: TBD
Cost: TBD
Five one-acts will each be performed twice during the show’s week-long run. This year’s playwrights are Bijan Samareh, CC ’15, Hannah Ceja, BC ’14, Mae Smith, CC ’14, Anya Josephs, CC ’16, and Alessio Mineo, CC ’14. Production team and direction interviews are being held Thursday from 8-11 p.m. in Hamilton Hall. Acting auditions will take place next week.

zoe.miller@columbiaspectator.com | @Zoe_M_Miller 

Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified Mariel O'Connell, BC ’14, in a photo caption. Spectator regrets error. 

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