“The Donkey Show” runs at OBERON every Saturday night.
“The Donkey Show” runs at OBERON every Saturday night. By Madeline R. Lear

State of the A.R.T.

The American Repertory Theater has been the home to professional theater around Harvard's campus since its founding in 1980. The entrance of the Theater, Dance, and Media concentration onto the Harvard stage, however, demands an examination of Harvard’s relationship to the A.R.T. and to the Boston theater community as a whole.
By Grace E. Huckins

Exactly one year ago this past Friday, “OSCAR at The Crown and the love that dare not speak its name,” created by Mark J. Mauriello ’15, opened at OBERON, a dance club-cum-theater venue just east of Harvard Square. While the play served as Mauriello’s senior thesis for his special concentration in Theater Arts and Performance, it traces its roots back not to a Harvard classroom but to OBERON itself. “I created the show and dreamed up the show my sophomore year for OBERON,” Mauriello says. “It was never not going to be there. [The] influence of having experienced work and been a part of work in that space, which was so exciting for me, made me want to make work for that space.”

Although Harvard did not have a theater concentration before Theater, Dance and Media began accepting concentrators this year—a lacuna that required students passionate about theater like Mauriello to craft a special concentration or limit their engagement with theater to the extracurricular sphere—Harvard’s campus has been home to a professional theater since the American Repertory Theater, of which OBERON is a part, was founded in 1980. Primarily located in the Loeb Drama Center, which also hosts a number of Harvard-Radcliffe Drama Club shows, the A.R.T. has become one of the best-known and most successful theaters in the United States, particularly since Diane Paulus took over as artistic director in 2008. In the past four years, the A.R.T. has sent seven shows to Broadway; four of them have won Tony Awards.

While it is possible to spend four years at Harvard and never interact with the A.R.T. directly, there are several theatrically inclined students every year who, like Mauriello, center a great deal of their Harvard experience on the A.R.T. For these students, almost all of whom came to Harvard with the knowledge that the school offered no established theater program at the time, the A.R.T. can become just as important—if not more important—than their academic lives. “I can’t imagine my time at Harvard or even just my own artistic growth without the A.R.T.,” Mauriello says.

With the advent of TDM, however, this relationship is set to evolve. By design, TDM and the A.R.T. are intimately linked—In addition to Paulus, A.R.T. producer Diane Borger, dramaturge Ryan McKittrick, and associate director Marcus Stern all serve on the Standing Committee on Theater, Dance & Media. The entrance of TDM onto the Harvard stage seems to demand an examination and redefinition of Harvard’s relationship to the A.R.T. and to the Boston theater community as a whole.

Sharing Spaces

While not every Harvard student involved in theater has such a close relationship to the A.R.T. as Mauriello did, some degree of interaction is difficult to avoid. “If you’re a part of HRDC and you go to Common Casting at the Loeb…that’s the most minimal amount you’re going to have a relationship with the A.R.T., because of that shared building,” says Mauriello. “That overlap of space is huge.”

Emily E. Bergquist ’18, a government concentrator who is nevertheless heavily involved with the A.R.T., agrees, saying she sees salient benefits from that proximity. “We literally share a building and a shop and a stage with [the A.R.T.],” she says. “So even if I’m not actively seeking out people to help [me], there are just people around who want to teach and help.”

For Bergquist, the simple awareness of this shared space has proven profoundly inspirational. “‘Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812’ [a musical that went up in the A.R.T. last year and is currently in the process of moving to Broadway] is one of [the best]—if not the best—shows I have ever seen,” she says. “Especially because we share the physical stage with [the A.R.T.], it’s really powerful to go watch the ‘Great Comet of 1812’ and be like, ‘Oh, I also did a show here, a month prior. What they do in their show I can use in my show.’”

The cast of "OSCAR at The Crown and the love that dare not speak its name."
The cast of "OSCAR at The Crown and the love that dare not speak its name." By Courtesy of Kolin Perry / A.R.T.

Beyond this basic level of interaction and inspiration ensured by the HRDC and the A.R.T. putting up shows on the same stages, members of Harvard’s theater community have manifold opportunities to deepen their connections to the A.R.T. The A.R.T. offers a summer internship that, according to Bergquist, usually takes between eight and 10 Harvard students each year. It is also entirely possible to work there during the school year, although such situations are comparatively less codified. “After I did ‘Comet,’ because I want to be a producer…I asked if I could be an intern in the…Artistic Office, where the producers and the company manager work, just to…be a fly on the wall with them,” Bergquist says. She has found that internship to be profoundly valuable. “Several of the people that work here are now good friends of mine,” she says. “I really go to them a lot and am constantly asking them questions about what to do with my show and how to be a person who works in professional theater.”

Mauriello similarly benefited from seeking out greater interaction with the A.R.T. During his time at Harvard, he was in the cast of A.R.T. shows “The Lily’s Revenge” and “The Donkey Show,” and he also worked in the marketing office. For Mauriello, his high level of involvement is easily explicable. “I showed up and said ‘yes,’” he says.

Club Theater

Though its productions are in general less well known than those put on at the Loeb Mainstage—as a crude indicator, only shows from the Mainstage have gone to Broadway—OBERON often has an apparently disproportionate role in Harvard students’ interactions with the A.R.T. This phenomenon is no random chance. “Generally, once a semester they’ll let students do a show there,” says Bergquist, who was involved in three productions at OBERON during her freshman year alone. “I really started to form relationships with the [professionals] at OBERON…and to establish more of a mentor-mentee relationship there.”

OBERON is a space uniquely conducive to such relationships. The Loeb Mainstage and the Loeb Ex frequently host student productions, but those productions are entirely student-run and do not involve A.R.T. staff in any major capacity. Putting on a student show at the Mainstage is therefore a significant undertaking. “The Mainstage…is just so big, and as a student you’re kind of on your own, and so you just have to [get] to the finish line of finishing your set and getting it done and doing your lights,” Bergquist says.

OBERON, on the other hand, provides student productions with its in-house professional lighting designer, sound designer, and production manager. “So because I’m not worried about live mixing microphones and doing lighting design, I can focus on how…I want to make this prop just right, and [on] the scenic design,” Bergquist says. “I always say OBERON is my personal playground.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, Bergquist is considering completing a project at OBERON next semester.

Mauriello, who put up his senior thesis at OBERON, feels similarly tied to the space. “After having worked at OBERON for a long time, it truly even still does feel like home,” he says. “And I miss my home at OBERON, and I miss the staff and artists there who I remember.”

Page Axelson and Caroline Lellouche in "OSCAR at The Crown and the love that dare not speak its name."
Page Axelson and Caroline Lellouche in "OSCAR at The Crown and the love that dare not speak its name." By Courtesy of Kolin Perry / A.R.T.

American Repertory Theater Dance Media

Both the Loeb and OBERON, then, have facilitated connections between the Harvard theater community and the A.R.T., a core part of the Boston theater community. With the advent of TDM, however, those sorts of connections are now possible in Farkas Hall, TDM’s stage.

“The relationship between TDM and A.R.T. in a way is very simple to describe, namely that it’s super close,” says Martin Puchner, chair of Theater, Dance & Media. “The A.R.T. is really right now, I would say, the main pillar on which TDM stands…. And I think the relationship will be even closer—if that’s imaginable—in the future, because I think more opportunities for working together will emerge.”

'The A.R.T. is really right now, I would say, the main pillar on which TDM stands,' says Martin Puchner

This connection between TDM and the outside theater community does provide salient benefit to concentrators in several ways. “I took this class with Yale School of Drama professor David Chambers, and it was the best class I ever took,” says Sam A. Hagen ’18, a TDM concentrator. Hagen also appreciates that the concentration seeks to expose its students to Boston theater, as when his sophomore tutorial took the entire class to see “An Octoroon” at ArtsEmerson. “Giving us access to the outside community through resources—bulk ticket buying and the financial comfort of the TDM department…is great, because, what, was I going to check boston-theater.com to check what shows were playing this weekend?” he says.

Hanging Out with Diane Paulus

At one point during my conversation with Bergquist, a woman with straight, silvered hair walked by and greeted her warmly. It took me a moment to realize that woman was Diane Paulus. According to Bergquist, such interactions are a regular part of her A.R.T. experience, although they are by no means humdrum. “Sometimes it’s crazy to me that I sit at my desk and Tony Award-winning director Diane Paulus walks by and is like, ‘Good morning, Emily, how was your test?’” she says. “That’s super surreal sometimes.”

Mauriello developed numerous close relationships within the A.R.T. and the Boston theater community while at Harvard—relationships that he views as particular to the A.R.T.’s role on Harvard’s campus and ability to place famous performers and student interns in a single space. “I was able to form a great relationship with Courtney Love, who I worked with, and that was amazing,” Mauriello says. “I admired her and thought she was brilliant for so long, and then we had a great relationship and we worked together,” he says. “It’s not only incredibly special but I think incredibly unique to the partnership of A.R.T. and Harvard.”

(from left) Lilleth Glimcher '14, Marisa Fratto, and Mark Mauriello '15 in “The Lily's Revenge.”
(from left) Lilleth Glimcher '14, Marisa Fratto, and Mark Mauriello '15 in “The Lily's Revenge.” By Courtesy of Gretjen Helene / A.R.T.

In Hagen’s case, his relationship with MIT professor and theater designer Sara Brown elevated his experience on “The Man Who” beyond the sphere of the conventional internship. “What was really valuable about working under Sara was not only is she a professional designer, but she’s a theater educator at her heart,” Hagen says. “Not only did she know how to design a set and design a set well…but she also knew how to do so while showing me and telling me what she was doing and guiding me about how to have the eye for good set design.”

Puchner sees a great deal of value in the sort of relationship Hagen and Brown had while working on “The Man Who,” and he hopes to encourage them further in TDM, in part borrowing from the A.R.T. model. “One of the things that both the A.R.T. and our big TDM shows [do] is that we bring in a lot of professionals—professional designers, sound designers, lighting designers, and so on and so forth—and students work with them, and you’re part of a professional theater experience,” he says. “And I think that’s really necessary, if you want to [pursue professional theater]. I think it’s a great learning opportunity.”

Through these sorts of opportunities, the A.R.T. and TDM train the next generation of actors, directors, playwrights, producers, and designers. In some cases, this idea of succession feels quite literal. Paulus was herself a student at Harvard, and so Mauriello feels a deep connection to the stories she tells about her A.R.T. experience and the famous artists she saw there as a student. “Whenever I hear her tell that story, I always think it’s just the same thing [with me],” he says. “It’s kind of funny now that she’s the artistic director and she, along with Diane Borger and the rest of the staff, are now bringing all these even more new and exciting and remarkable artists, and I feel so lucky having had this mirrored experience.... It’s like that theater and that stage is vibrating with history of insane greatness…. And then every once in awhile they let us 20-somethings run amok on the stage…. It’s pure insanity, and I’m so grateful for it.”

—Staff writer Grace E. Huckins can be reached at grace.huckins@thecrimson.com.

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