O-Issue 2012: Campus theater

By Daniel Rivera

Never in my life have I been a “theater kid.” I don’t get the jokes, I haven’t read much Shakespeare, and I pride myself on having never sat through an episode of Glee. The stage is cool and all but, in my opinion, it would never measure up to the magic of the silver screen. So I guess I was asking for a rude awakening when I nearly wrote off the U of C’s campus theater scene before even giving it a fair shot.

But luckily for me, O-Week happened. I found myself in the audience for a show by the very funny Off-Off Campus, and then, somewhat later, lining up for a free Thursday showing of a University Theater (UT) production called The Physicist. Both served as strong pieces in their own right, but also as collective exposure to the U of C’s amazingly diverse theatrical offerings. After all, with approximately 500 students a year taking part in campus performances both on and behind the stage, there’s space for everyone.

Most of those people are involved with UT, which produces over 35 shows a year to over 10,000 members of the local and city community. All productions are designed, written, and directed by students, and their programs will now be supplemented by the vast array of resources the new Logan Center for the Arts provides.

Here are a few key things to remember: Auditions for UT plays always take place on Tuesday and Wednesday of first week on the third floor of Cobb. Be pro-active and check online to see which specific productions strike your fancy so you know what you’re auditioning for. After all, there’s quite a variety to choose from–productions can range from multi-act plays with a host of characters to 45-minute projects with just a few actors on stage. Speaking of which, keep in mind that theater extends far beyond the people you see in the spotlight. If you’re interested in stage crew, writing, directing, or helping with lighting and set design, then campus theater is still the place to be. Hell, UT and TAPS stage a quarterly 24-Hour Play Festival that condenses all of those jobs into one day-long spectacle.

On the more comedic side of the stage, Off-Off Campus, the second-oldest continuously running student improv troupe in the nation, has auditions around the same time as UT: Tuesday and Wednesday of first week, third floor of Cobb, 7-10 p.m.  Next season’s shows include Beerfest at Tiffany’s, Fasting and Furious, Rihanna Karenina, and more; the season runs third through seventh week, and the group is never better than at its annual O-Week show.

For those interested in the stage as more than an extracurricular, the U of C offers its renowned Theater and Performance Studies (TAPS) program, which funnels student passion for stage performance into a “flexible and exacting” education in the arts. TAPS stresses theory and critical analysis; by the time its students have completed the major, they are expected to have developed “a nuanced and sophisticated vocabulary with which to analyze creativity.” This is not at the sake of a practical, hands-on educational approach: Students conclude their major with a B.A., which requires the performance of an original work.

Nowhere is this serious approach to the theater more manifest than in Court Theatre, the professional theater on campus that was once called “the most consistently excellent theater company in America” by The Wall Street Journal. Court, founded in 1955, offers innovative takes on classical productions such as Proof and The Misanthrope, and U of C students can score free (or heavily discounted) tickets.

As a friend who’s actively involved in UT once told me, perhaps the most important thing to remember about campus theater is that there’s no need to hesitate. Your options range from The Dean’s Men (the campus Shakespeare society) to Le Vorris and Vox (the fire-hurling, stilt-wearing student circus).  Theater, like everything else at the U of C, will be challenging, dynamic, wildly diverse, and rewarding. But above all that, it’s also welcoming. Whether you’ve been acting for years or fantasizing about trying it out, there is a place somewhere in the many folds of campus theater for you.