Collaboration and Community Presents: A Recap of the White Box Theatre Festival

By Colleen McDaniel '17

I start with a scene. I sit in a room of twenty-plus writers and directors. We are all paired-off. Everyone is surrounded with laptops, papers, notebooks, or some other kind of recording tools. We are writers and directors auditioning actors for our White Box shows. Strange requests such as, “Can you do a double-take,” “Are you comfortable yelling on stage,” and “Please use your scariest voice,” float around the room as we individually try to decide the perfect selection of characters for our scenes. As actors stream through, we jokingly argue over who is most deserving of each. We sit overwhelmed by the number of actors to choose from. We debate, we discuss, and we are a group of theater and art fanatics known under our event, the White Box Theatre Festival.

The White Box Theatre Festival was a collaboration of ArtStreet and Studio Theatre — UD’s student-run organization who perform exclusively in Black Box theatre — to bring experimental theater to the forefront of the UD community. Scenes, monologues and short plays were submitted from UD students and alumni as a response to the Rare Rose Book Collection exhibit in the Roesch Library Gallery for Fall 2014. The theme of the festival’s inaugural year was chosen to incorporate the artwork (responses to the Imprints and Impressions exhibit) that was on display in ArtStreet’s White Box Gallery. Submissions were based off of works from the exhibit, and each was the writer’s own unique perspective on these well-known classic writings. The scenes ranged from three minutes to about half an hour, and were performed in three groups. The staging took place in the White Box Gallery, where the audience was surrounded by the stage, the actors, and of course the artwork already in the space. Actors and directors also ranged from current UD students, to UD alumni, to members of the greater Dayton community. 

Sparking from the minds of ArtStreet Director, Brian LaDuca, and UD Class of 2014 alumnus, Josh Chamberlain, the concept behind White Box was that the audience could be a part of the show. The audience not only watched, but experienced intimate moments in a character’s life from only a few feet away. Audience members stood right next to an actor before he or she entered the stage. They watched one scene end as another began. Scenes flowed continuously, creating an intimate and personal setting for the audience to feel as if they were a part of the action. 

Back to auditions, I can be sure that having directed a scene for the White Box Theatre Festival, I now fully understand the importance of meticulously selecting the perfect actor for a scene. To say that the White Box Theatre Festival exuded creative talent is simply not a fair enough description of how truly full of creativity each participant was. Writers created a way of getting their point across and expressing their own artistic abilities in scenes that took under an hour to perform. Directors — if I can toot my own horn — worked with actors and the production team to draw out their own visions of each scene. Actors made each character come alive, while adding their own creative twist. The beauty of White Box was that everyone worked together. The production team was able to tie every show together to create connections and bonds between similar and dissimilar scenes. The cast and crew were able to fully develop a character in a matter of seconds. They set up a beginning, middle, and end that engaged the mind in a minute. This was all possible because of the cooperative efforts of every member of the White Box team.

This is where I regrettably, but whole-heartedly, state the most typical and expected statement to ever be spoken by a UD student: This event exemplified the Marianist tradition of Community. Students love to joke about growing tired of that word because it’s all we hear nonstop from the first day of classes to last final, but we all know it’s the very thing that makes UD our home. My generic UD statement proves itself not only in the basic nature of bringing together students, alumni, and people from outside campus, but also in the very nature of the show itself. The involvement of the audience in the show was a great way to get that sense of community that we here at the University of Dayton know and love. The collaborative efforts of directors, actors, writers, and the production team was such a huge part of what made the show such a success. I have once again learned that Community is inescapable at the University of Dayton — which is something I am incredibly proud of. 

Flash forward to the final night of shows. Two thirds of us sit in the Creator Space awaiting the start of closing night. Everyone is surrounded by props and costumes. We are laughing, sharing stories, and discussing cast reunions. We have become a family of theater and art fanatics, reveling in each other’s success. I cannot say that the inaugural year of White Box was a smooth ride. I cannot say that there were not moments of stress and confusion. I can say, however, that the White Box Theatere Festival brought out my inner creativity and gave me means of communicating it to an audience in a remarkably original way.  I do not know what the future holds for White Box, but I think it is an experience that everyone interested in the arts at UD should experience, either as a participant or an audience member. The White Box Theatre Festival made a connection between community and the performing arts in a brilliant way.

Colleen McDaniel is a sophomore Psychology and Women's and Gender Studies major. She is a peer educator for the Office of Sexual Violence Prevention Education, working through the Green Dot movement to spread awareness. Colleen is an executive member of Campus Concert Committee and works to bring great music to students on campus. She manages primarily as well as writes and acts for a variety of shows like Full Circle and UD Monologues. 

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