O-Issue 2013: Campus theater

Act like you’re not a UChicago student for a while.

By Lauren Gurley

Whether it’s performing Shakespeare, building a set, or bringing the audience to tears with improv comedy, there are many opportunities to make the world your stage during your time at UChicago.

Each year approximately 500 students are involved in campus productions both on stage and behind the scenes. The largest contingent of students takes part in University Theater (UT), which produces over 35 shows a year reaching an annual audience of over 10,000.

UT offers a high level of student involvement in the shows and an extensive set of resources at students’ disposal, including the one year-old Logan Center for the Arts and the knowledge of highly-trained theater professional and academics.

“I think the biggest difference between theater at U of C and theater at other schools is that here theater is totally student run with the exception of ‘the pro show,’ which happens every fall and spring quarter. Every production has a staff comprised only of students, with professional staff there to help along the way if needed,” said Margeaux Perkins, a third-year who is co-directing As You Like It during seventh week. “Theater at the U of C is very close-knit. UT is for everybody regardless of major, which is something you don’t always see at other schools.”

This fall, UT productions will include House of Yes (O-Week through first week), Hedda Gabler (sixth week), The Hamletmachine (eighth week), and Grey Gardens (tenth week). Auditions for UT productions are held on the second and third floors of Cobb during the first week of every quarter. New and curious students should sign up for the UT list host and check the UT Web site for specific audition information. Positions for production managing, state managing, house managing, lighting, set design, costume design, and sound design are always available if you prefer to stay out of the spotlight—and can be found online. The 24-Hour Play Festival—held the first weekend of each quarter—invites all students to create an entire play from scratch, from playwriting to set design to performance, in a daylong period.

Each quarter, The Dean’s Men, the University’s resident Shakespeare troupe, stages one of the master’s 39 plays. This fall they will be the company for Perkins’ As You Like It during seventh week. The Dean’s Men also holds weekly Shakespeare readings and they often gather and receive feedback from Professor Emeritus and Shakespeare expert David Bevington.

For those drawn to satiric side of theater, Off-Off Campus, the second oldest continuously running student “improv” troupe is the country, is well worth checking out. Started by Second City founder Bernie Sahlins (A.B. ’43) in 1986, Off-Off presents a five-week revue each quarter. This fall Doctor, Doctor, Give Me the News (I’ve Got a Bad Case of Wanting News) will be held at 8:30 p.m. on Fridays of fourth through eighth weeks at The Blue Gargoyle Theatre at University Church. Auditions for Off-Off are held early in fall quarter. Occam’s Razor, which is open to both undergraduate and graduate students, puts on three improv comedy shows each quarter.

For those interested in studying theater in an academic setting, Theater and Performance Arts Studies (TAPS) is a strong undergraduate department which places lots of emphasis on combining the theory of drama and its practice. Six courses in theory and analysis and six courses in artistic practice are required of all TAPS majors.

It should also be noted that some of the best professional theater in Chicago happens here at Court Theatre, a professional theater company on campus. Once called “the most consistently excellent theater company in America” by The Wall Street Journal, Court will open this season with the Chicago premiere of The Mountaintop, a creative take on the events surrounding the eve of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. A one-man version of the Homeric epic poem, An Iliad, will return to Court from November 13 through December 8. Tickets for students are offered at highly discounted prices.

Fresh thespian blood, experienced or not, is what keeps the theater groups alive and improving each year. And with the University’s offerings academic and extracurricular, on and off stage, traditional and comedic, chances are you are missing out if you don’t put yourself out there.