February 26, 2014
REALLY Breaking the 4th Wall
: Site-specific directing scene in the roof garden of the Main Campus Center (MCC): Katya Landau, Thomas Speltz (arms raised), and Ryan McAtee. Photo by Mark Bocek.
: (Visible from left, seated) Jade Gregg, Sophie Franco, Eugie Price & two others (back row from left) Fredrik Hedstrom, Yadira Duarte, (standing) Connor Zaft, & Riley Shanahan; (group standing center) Aly Norling, Kathleen Collins & Soren Gillaspy; at right, Katya Landau & Thomas Speltz. Photo by Mark Bocek.
: Aly Norling, professor Kathleen Collins, Laina Lowry, Victoria McNaughton & Soren Gillaspy. Photo by Mark Bocek.
: Katya Landau "lipsticks" Thomas Speltz. Photo by Mark Bocek.
: Katya Landau, Thomas Speltz, (back to camera) Ryan McAtee. Photo by Mark Bocek.
: "Taking a deep, clearing breath" between scenes; (from left) Kathleen Collins, Erin Gray, Joey Adams; (seated at back) JR Yancher. Photo by Mark Bocek.
: Class ready to view second scene from the stair tower between the MCC's 6th and 7th floors. Photo by Mark Bocek.
: Looking out the window of the stair tower across the street to the windows of Cornish's Notion Building, where the action of the scene will take place. Photo by Mark Bocek.
: The scene plays out in the Notion Building across the street from the MCC. Photo by Mark Bocek.
Follow a Cornish directing class right out the theater door and into a new way of looking at drama as students produce “site specific” scenes.
When you see a bunch of Cornish students moving purposefully through the halls, it’s a good bet there will be something interesting happening wherever they stop. (Note: follow such people.) On this particular week in February, the pressing crowd is composed of directing and playwriting students from the Theater Department. Where they come to a stop is the very top of the Main Campus Center (MCC), a small, rooftop garden surrounded by bright sky and glass towers. What is going on? A scene is being acted in hushed tones. Not every word is getting through, but it’s riveting: the intensity of the action — involving as it does a woman putting lipstick on a man, for one thing — and the high drama inherent in standing on what amounts to a rooftop carries the moment along.
The class, taught by theater professor Kathleen Collins, is part of the original works curriculum. The assignment is for a “Site Specific Scene.” Four groups of students have produced parts of a script at four different non-theater locations. Before this stop, Collins and her class have already witnessed two scenes. The first was in a courtroom in the U.S. District Courthouse several blocks away. This involved the entire class going through a metal detector. According to Collins, the courthouse staff was very accommodating. “They loved it,” she says. A second scene took place inside a large window of the Washington Talking Book Library as the audience stood on the sidewalk outside.
After the scene in the roof garden, the group moves through the 7th floor of the MCC towards the tower that contains a stairway. After a moment to take a few deep, clearing breaths to prepare themselves for the new scene, the class positions themselves on the stairway to look out the windows to the Cornish building across the way. In the dusty windows of the Notion Building, actors put up paper signs, part of the action that is telephoned back to the audience in the MCC.
Kathleen Collins says of the class that she hopes students learn to be entrepreneurial in their conception of theater, to stretch the thinking, to not only break the imaginary “fourth wall” of the stage (the audience side), but to break out of the confines of the playhouse entirely. “Theater has to go to the people,” Collins says, “they need to learn to take theater outside.”
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