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June 10, 2009 | 12:00 p.m. CST
Erik Gratton enters a classroom at Stephens College and witnesses students throwing themselves onto the floor, kicking, punching and slapping each other. They’re clearly enjoying every minute of the scuffles. Instead of pulling the fights apart, Gratton applauds the aggressive behavior.
Gratton teaches an acting class at the Summer Theatre Institute that focuses on combat techniques. His students include 33 women who are foregoing summer relaxation to attend acting, dance and voice classes in addition to rehearsals in an effort to produce the Institute’s annual free productions. “STI is kind of like theater boot camp because you have classes all day and then go to rehearsal,” actress Kaitie Huffman says. “You grow more in a focused environment.”
Combat!, showing June 19, is directed and choreographed by Gratton. The production is composed and driven by fight scenes, and it showcases techniques including simple face slaps, club and sword fighting, flipping bodies and machete knife skirmishes. Because of his interest in fencing, Gratton found a way to connect with an audience through violence.
“The theater still holds a real ability to shock and instruct,” Gratton says. “As human beings, when we resort to violence, it’s because we have run out of ideas to work civilly and the result is beating
each other up. There is no way to leave without being impressed.”
Musical Revue, directed by Stephens professor Rob Doyen, is another Institute production, showing June 29. The show is an annual Institute tradition and compiles several different songs from popular musicals that showcase vocal ability.
“We expect the largest crowd for Musical Revue,” actress Jenny Massey-Brown says. “I think this show is the most popular because it is family-friendly, and the audience has an idea of what they are getting when they come see the show.”
“These are good, free nights for people to forget their troubles and see where actors start and how they grow,” says Dan Shultz, the Institute’s artistic director. “We are really proud of our work, and during the summer, if we can give something free to the community, we will.”
For more information contact the Stephens College box office at 876-7199 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
104 Willis Ave.
7:30 p.m., Friday, June 19
100 Willis Ave.
7:30 p.m., Monday, June 29
All performances are FREE to the public.