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Stephens Summer Theatre Institute begins Friday

Theater students prep for the future using Columbia as showcase central

PHOTO COURTESY OF STEPHENS COLLEGE

Stephens Summer Theatre Institute students go through a four-week musical workshop. The musical revue is the company’s most popular and well-attended event.

May 19, 2011 | 12:00 a.m. CST

College is no easy task. For the Stephens Summer Theatre Institute students, it’s anything but a breeze. They devote their entire summers to one purpose: impressing an audience with a summer series of four shows. On May 9, 37 first-year theater students began meeting and rehearsing for the season. The students write, act, choreograph and design the material for all four productions.

The students in the company, all of whom are first-year Bachelor of Fine Arts candidates, work more than 10 hours a day, six days a week to produce the shows. They all are free and open to the public. The theater company is financed by student tuition. Directors, teachers and theater professionals such as Erik Gratton and Shannon Michael Wamser work with students to develop all the shows.

An Evening of Children’s Theatre
WHERE: Warehouse Theatre
WHEN: Tomorrow, 7:30 p.m.
Every student in the institute will play a part in this performance. Education and funny scenarios might not do it for adult minds, but according to Dan Schultz, Artistic Director of STI, “The kids love it.” The show features four short plays designed for tots. Kids can part from the tube and travel into the world of fables and princesses for one night. Social responsibility topics will teach children about bullying and how to be good neighbors. The production typically features bright, exaggerated costumes, and actors often interact with children during the show. “It has larger-than-life characters,” says Lauren Maslanik, a senior and past performer in STI. “Everything is over the top, fun and family-oriented.”

Unbelievable
WHERE: Warehouse Theatre
WHEN: June 3, 7:30 p.m.
Ordinary scenarios, be gone. For the original writing portion of the summer, unbelievable was the theme given to students for inspiration. They were asked to brainstorm and create concepts for scenes, which include off-the-wall situations. Schultz says about 41 one-minute scenes are packed into an hour of original performances. Each student sees his or her writing performed on stage, and they all act at some point. “The toughest part is going to be going out of our comfort zone, especially for technical majors who don’t act,” costume designer Samantha Wielansky says.

Combat and Comedy
WHERE: Warehouse Theatre
WHEN: June 10, 7:30 p.m.
Commedia dell’arte, a Renaissance form of theater from Italy, joins stage combat to assist in choreographing some scenes. Characters including a professor, a hero and a good girl will battle it out, but there is no real story line, so don’t expect to learn any life lessons. “You have a villain, but he stays a villain the whole show,” Pickering says. “His heart doesn’t soften, and he doesn’t change.” Ninja and Shakespearean sword fighting also jab their way into the show. “You get to come see people beat each other up for an hour, and nobody gets hurt,” Schultz says.

A Musical Revue
WHERE: Macklanburg Playhouse
WHEN: June 20, 7:30 p.m.
Acting isn’t the only way students showcase themselves; they sing, too. Stephens’ students work to perform as rigorously as actors in Broadway hits such as Chicago and 9 to 5. For the revue, the company incorporates songs from three Broadway musicals and performs original choreography. Students attend a special four-week musical workshop to learn acting and singing. Costumes will include colored leotards and dance skirts throughout the musical production. As an audience favorite, the revue usually fills every seat.

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