Students Push Studio Theatre into the Spotlight with 'Farragut North'

By Josh Chamberlain ‘14

I knew right from the start that Farragut North was going to be different. Having been involved in Studio Theatre for the last three years, I had seen the production process for various shows from the roles of actor, stage manager, and even director. But something about Farragut North pushed me to make the whole process different. It may have been the desire to make a name for Studio Theatre in its new home in the College Park Center and it may have been the culmination of my personal philosophy to leave things better than I find them finally coming to a devastating and climactic conclusion. Either way, I poured everything I had into making Farragut North the best production I could imagine.

For starters, we cast the show in the spring of 2013, something that had never been done in Studio Theatre before. This came from the desire to not only put the new Black Box on the map as soon as possible, but also to offer the incoming first-years a glimpse of just what Studio Theatre was capable of. The traditional Studio season doesn’t really kick off until sometime in October, and if any full-length shows are produced in the fall semester, they usually don’t go up until late October or early November. I wanted to offer something almost immediately, and while the last weekend in September certainly isn’t immediate, it’s the soonest we could put up a full-scale production as a means to attract new members.

Running summer rehearsals proved to be the caveat to this. While we didn’t meet as a full cast between April and August, I skyped each member of the cast numerous times through the summer as a means of working with them on character. The process began with a discussion of key ideas and character traits. I emphasized particular lines, speech patterns, and gestures I wanted each actor to focus on and use to define how they developed their character. This all led to a final Skype session in which I interacted with each actor as his or her character in an improvised mock interview. The final product of this process proved to be remarkably rewarding, allowing us to focus on stage direction and line memorization once school started.

Finally moving into the new Black Box itself proved to be a bit challenging. Since the space had never been used for a full-length production before, my stage manager, Ellie Hurney, and I had to experiment with lighting and staging in order to make everything work onstage. We spent countless nights in the Black Box, focusing lights, moving set pieces, and assembling sound cues to make the show as visceral an experience as possible. There were times it was infuriating beyond belief, but Ellie made everything possible. I’m being completely honest when I say that Farragut North wouldn’t have been possible without her.

While putting the finishing touches on the show in terms of character work, lighting, and props, I had to figure out how to promote the show in a unique manner. Traditionally, promotion for Studio Theatre shows consists of hanging up a few fliers and spreading news via word of mouth. While I wanted the production itself to push boundaries, I wanted the way in which we promoted it to be inventive as well. To start, we contacted FlyerTV regarding putting mock campaign ads together, since the show follows the inner workings of two presidential campaigns. The ads themselves not only ran on FlyerTV to advertise the show, but were also used in the theatre as the audience entered before the production. Promotion also included mock campaign fliers for each candidate, as though the election featured in the show was real. These attempts added a layer of depth unlike anything I had previously worked on and were an attempt to make Farragut North more of a theatrical experience than simply another play.

While the work itself was exhausting and aggravating at times, the entire process is something I’m incredibly proud of. After opening night, we learned that Hugecity Ohio had named us the #1 Event in Dayton for that weekend, a feat unachieved by any prior Studio Theatre production. I was blessed to work with such a talented cast and crew who exceeded my expectations in every way possible. I couldn’t have put this show together without each and every one of them. Together, we made something special that I hope impacted not only its audience, but also the way that theatre is performed, produced, and discussed on this campus. We collectively pushed to make Studio Theatre better, and while it might be too soon to say so, I’d like to think that we managed that.

To find out more about UD Studio Theatre and stay updated with future events, you can follow them on Facebook or Twitter (UDStudioTheatre).

Josh Chamberlain is Senior English and American Studies Major. He serves on the Studio Theatre Board of Directors and is the managing co-editor of Off Topic, a student-run zine focused on human rights within a cultural context.

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