50 years of theater at Davidson College
Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013

50 years of theater at Davidson College

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/10/17/19/01/FEHdd.Em.138.jpeg|208
    Actors Michael Diamant and Cea Rubin perform in Davidson College’s “A Month in the Country.”
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    The Davidson College production of “Sonia Flew,” featured actors Tom James, Dylan Goodman, Dinah Decker and Wayne McPherson.
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    Ian Thomson and Laura Hain perform in Davidson College’s production of “Guys and Dolls.”
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  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/10/17/19/01/alOP6.Em.138.jpeg|476
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    This archive photos is from unknown theater production during the 1960s
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    Connor Hubbard and Maggie Birgel perform in Davidson College’s production of “Guys and Dolls.”
  • Want to go? • The season begins with Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” Oct. 25-27 and Nov. 1-2 at the Duke Family Performance Hall on campus. The gender-bending comedy follows a convoluted romance during a boisterous holiday. • “Reckless,” a play by Craig Lucas, will be shown in the Barber Theatre Nov. 13-17. Rachel, the main character, flees for her life to begin a journey of whimsical fortunes and nightmarish tragedies. • “Mr. Marmalade” will run Feb. 19-23 in the Barber Theatre. Written by Noah Haidle, this comedy of emotionally disturbed children focuses on 4-year-old Lucy, whose only real friend is also New Jersey’s youngest suicide case. • “IRL: In Real Life” will be Feb. 27-28 in the Barber Theatre. This R.N. Sandberg play focuses on a group of four school friends who become embroiled in a case of online bullying. • “Providence Gap,” conceived and written by Preston Lane and North Carolina singer-songwriter Laurelyn Dossett, will be March 26-30 in the Duke Family Performance Hall. Dossett will make a guest appearance to perform original bluegrass music for the production, which celebrates Appalachia through a myriad of characters in brothels, traveling bands, struggling farms and the trenches of World War I. Details: 704-894-2000 or davidson.edu/the-arts/theatre.

Davidson College’s theater program has come a long way, considering its original charter from 1837 expressly prohibited “rope dancing and theatricals.”

The college’s theater department will celebrate its 50th anniversary season this school year with four productions – an admired Shakespearean play, a comedy, gripping drama and a quirky Appalachian-inspired musical. The season begins with Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” which runs Oct. 25-27 and Nov. 1-2 in the Duke Family Performance Hall.

Joe Gardner – a former student and the longest-standing theater professor at the college – said in spite of the charter, students in the 1880s started a tradition of performing plays by Shakespeare off campus.

“For us, the most pivotal moments were the completion of the Duke Family Performance Hall in 2002 and the renovation of Cunningham with its new Barber Theatre in 2008,” Gardner said. “Another fairly recent development we are proud of is a joint commitment with the music department to partner on producing a musical every other year.”

Professor of English Edward Erwin offered one of the college’s first formal theater outlets for students with the creation of the Dramatic Club in 1920. Regular productions directed by faculty members on campus started in the 1930s and in 1960, the Cunningham Fine Arts Building finally gave the program a permanent home.

English professors John Sneden and Charles Goodykoontz continued to cultivate the program during the early 1960s.

The late Rupert Barber was hired as the college’s first professor of theater in 1963, when theater was inaugurated as an academic department.

Incremental growth in the student body and having women admitted as degree candidates in the 1970s created pressure for expansion in all the arts, said Gardner. While theater lagged behind art and music, all departments continued to expand. The theater department now includes seven faculty and two state-of-the-art performance venues.

There are too many memories to pick a favorite, Gardner said, but the 2003 production of “Frankenstein, the Rock Opera” stand outs. The show was written and composed by a trio of musicians/writers, two of whom were Davidson students.

“We took a big risk in taking it on, but it paid off after a lot of hard work and a little luck,” Gardner said. “It was a huge success. To see our big theater on campus packed full with students every night was thrilling.”

Driven by creativity

Professor Sharon Green joined the college in 1999 and now serves as chair of the department. To her, the college’s staff, students and facilities help the program not only stand out, but excel.

“My colleagues are creative, innovative and ambitious directors, actors, designers,” she said. “At the same time, they are also gifted teachers who are able to communicate their artistic visions clearly to students, and involve students in meaningful ways in their artistic processes.”

The size of the college and the program offer students opportunities they may not have at other institutions, said Green. Each year, a directing slot is reserved for a student director, who works with a faculty mentor to create a production with a full design team.

Several students also have had the opportunity to conduct independent research and study programs abroad with support from grants from the Dean Rusk program.

“In the always-intense process that is involved in getting a show up, faculty have the opportunity to work closely with students, offering teaching and mentorship in a personalized way,” Green said.

Ana Rodriguez, a 2012 production fellow of the department, said the program’s tight-knit community had an endearing quality to it.

“My first class as a first-year student at Davidson College happened to be Acting I,” Rodriguez said. “And from the beginning, I knew that this was a unique department.”

She was drawn in by the caring and talented faculty, the beautiful facilities and the idea that she could explore acting while learning about other facets of industry.

“For example, as a first-year student, I was aware of theater as a vehicle for social change but I was not aware of its effectiveness and magnitude,” she said.

Her most memorable class, Theatre for Social Justice, was taught by Green.

“As a class, we students worked together to write and produce a play that was geared toward middle-schoolers and addressed the issue of bullying,” Rodriguez said. “The writing process was completely organic, as we used experiences from our own lives to create characters and a story that we felt kids today could relate to.”

In every sense of the word, the theater department community is a true family, Rodriguez said.

“Since I’ve been at Davidson, I’ve realized that this department never skips a beat,” she said. “Faculty and staff work tirelessly to make sure each student’s needs are met, and to provide unique opportunities that enrich the students’ learning experience. Faculty and staff also work hard to build a strong support system that creates a true feeling of home away from home.”

Johnson: 704-786-2185

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