Drama Club Tries to Broaden Scope of Loeb's Ex
Last night should have been the kickoff of the spring season for the Experimental Theatre of the Loeb Drama Center--but it wasn't.
Instead the theater for the first time opened its doors three weeks ago, presenting three different types of "preseason" events These events--which included film, dance, and improvisational theater--were "chosen specifically because they were the set of project that would not normally have been chosen for the regular season," said Secretary to the Experimental Theatre, Stephen W. Gutwilling '86.
While most people associate the "Ex" with innovative--and often oblique--performances of radical modern plays, members of the Harvard Radcliffe Drama Club (HRDC) are hoping to revamp that image by broadening the scope of the theater's presentations. Since, as Gutwillig says, the space is "not inherently dramatic," organizers have sought to fill the space with a variety of artistic disciplines during the preseason and postseason, while reserving the regular season for more traditional offerings.
While playwrights like Shepherd and Chekhov--who usually comprise standard fare at the Ex--will continue to predominate during the regular season, the HRDC has made numerous efforts to open up the theater to new group especially those that are not specifically oriented to drama. David G. Victor '87, president of the HRDC, explained that this season's outreach effort is "a way of extending the opportunities we can provide--including a space and some financial help--to people who aren't the traditional stock of the HRDC."
While the first preseason event, the anniversary show of improvisational group On Thin Ice, was selected not for its novelty but to celebrate the group's start in the Ex one year ago, the second event was a "first" in several ways. Not only did the two evenings of original student films mark the first time that student films had been shown in the space, but it also allowed the Harvard Radcliffe filmmaking classes. However, technical difficulties forced the films to be moved to Sever Hall for one night.
The third event, last weekend's "Dance EX. travaganza," constituted the first collaboration ever among the three most active dance groups on campus. Expressions, Mainly Jazz, and the Harvard-Radcliffe Dance Company.
According to Cecelia F. Dunn '87, who coordinated the dance event the use of the Ex was beneficial to both the performers and the public.
The dancers were excited about using the space--they are used to using space not suitable for dancing," Dunn said, citing the Currier House Fishbowl and the Leverett House Old Library as less convenient but more accessible spots.
"There was an incredible turnout we had people crammed in the aisles," Dunn added.
HRDC members are hoping that their postseason event will be similarly successful. Although University regulations prevent the mounting of a new production during reading period, the production of "Charlotte: Life or Theater?" will begin during classes and continue through May reading period. According to Gutwillig, "Charlotte" will be an original theater piece based on an autobiographical book of 769 paintings, which German holocaust victim Charlotte Salomon used to record her life.
Mark Rittenberg, a professional director who recently founded the Jerusalem Drama Workshop in Israel, will direct "Charlotte," providing undergraduates with a chance to work with a realworld expert. Rittenberg said in his prospectus for the project that he plans it to be a semester-long process of dramatic exploration, and "an opportunity to work without limits--which does not mean without artistry."
By extending the theater's season four extra weeks, the HRDC expects to maximize the use of the space, which ordinarily lies fallow during that time.
According to Gutwillig, the variety and the duration of the season's project are meant to "expand community awareness of what the space is for and what it can do."
"It is our hope to broaden the profile of the audiences that attend Loeb events," he continued, "I really hate the way the ART [American Repertory Theatre] patrons look at the Ex and don't know what it is, what's inside." He added that the HRDC hopes that, if a specific audience for dance or film events is drawn to the Ex, they will return for other projects.
According to Dunn, this plan is working. "People who came to the dance program said. 'Oh, the Ex, there's something in it. It's free.'"
However, extending the season also presented the possibility of scheduling problems. Since the preseason events occur during the time regular season shows use for rehearsal, the projects chosen needed to be one which did not require much rehearsal time of then own, Victor said.
Thoughout the season, Gutwilig said, the Ex operates on "a tight schedule, nightly administered that is adhered to." He explained, "A show moves in on a Sunday begins performing on Thursday, closes Saturday and the next show moves in the following morning."
"Unlike any other pace on campus, we do an entirely different project every week for 11 weeks," Gutwillig added.
Jonathan Marks an ARI member who acts as an advisor to Ex said that HRDC's effort to open up the theater to diverse groups has "simply formalized more tentative steps that have been taken before" Marks cited as an example Adams Houses Kronauer Group, which used the space to put on a production entitled "Medea Macbeth Cinderella" last year.
"Previous boards have, but by bit, opened it up to people on an ad-hoc basis," Marks said. "This is an effort to institutionalize this ad-hoc process."
This season's "regular" shows will run for seven weeks, starting with Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard," which opened last night. The season's offerings include more notable "firsts," such as a weekend of staged readings of original student works and the combination of two shorter plays--Shepard's "Savage Love" and "Touch and Cage Games" by Bradley K. Marshall '85 which address similar themes.
Gutwillig said that the student readings constitute "an opportunity for playwrights in the Harvard community to have their plays worked on by serious actors and directors."
The final production of the regular season will be a fresh version of Sophocles "Oedipus Rev," to be directed by ARI cast member Ben Halley Jr. Halley terms the project "a metaphysical theatrical experienced that is rooted in the community of the human soul."
Gutwillig ascribed a different significance to "Ocdipus." "This is the first time that a member of the ARI--a company that is sitting in our laps--will work this closely with a student project."
In addition to the changes inside the Ex, the HRDC is also transforming the theater's exterior this semester. By making the theater's lobby en-of the ART, board members hope to attract new customers.
Gutwillig said that he is transforming the lobby area into exhibition space for undergraduate artwork. The first exhibition will be photography and, he said. "dont works will rotate with a frequency that reflects the change inside the theater."