Off Stage, On Campus

Underground theater gives students full artistic control.     By Monica Watson ’12

An evil villain trying to win the girl of his dreams, a dystopian world where literature is banned, and two men discovering what it means to see God are just some of the stories Ithaca College students performed last semester in underground theater shows.

“Underground theater is just students getting together to do theater because they want to,” says drama major Jennifer O’Connor ’10, who worked on a performance of Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, based on the popular musical web series of the same name by Joss Whedon.

 Because underground theater isn’t a bonafide College organization, students can feel free to perform any show they like. But that can create problems, too.

“We have a harder time booking a space,” says acting major Tony Vo ’12, who ran into difficulties getting chairs and a venue for a performance of Edward Albee’s The Zoo Story. “We also couldn’t post fliers in certain places because we’re not an official organization.”

Because performance spaces can be anywhere — from a driveway to a classroom — students can experiment with location, props, and process. Director Adam Turk wanted to try something new for The Zoo Story and staged the performance in the courtyard outside of the Terrace dining hall. “That’s the beauty of it,” says Vo, who had an acting part in the play. “You get full artistic control.”

Freshman exploratory major Anne Hawley Brett thought the choice to hold The Zoo Story performance outside heightened the experience for the audience.

“It was freezing out,” she says. “But the cold really amplified the tension and struggle between the two characters. As the intensity grew, you could feel it getting colder. The actors were able to hold your attention, which is hard to do in a two-person show.”

The cost of an underground show comes straight out of the pockets of the students. The amount of money each show costs varies, but according to O’Connor, it can range anywhere from a couple of dollars to a couple hundred dollars, depending on props, costumes, and other items purchased for the show.

Drama major Dan Jones ’12 directed an underground production of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 on April 30. “I was counting on getting enough people to pay just a couple of bucks to help cover my costs,” he says. “But, I’m willing to do this because it’s my dream.”

In spite of the difficulties, students say underground shows are a great performing experience. “It has a different atmosphere, and it’s a lot more intimate,” Vo says.

According to O’Connor, enthusiasm for underground performances is usually high. “Dillingham is a huge family, and we all support each other,” she says.

Underground theater also offers opportunities for nontheater students to perform and for students from other majors and schools to collaborate. “The theater department can be very insular,” Jones says. “It’s good to interact with people of different backgrounds so you can grow and be a more rounded person.”