As students flock back onto campus, Ohio State’s Department of Theatre has
made a head start on its productions for the semester.
Its first show of the year, “Operetta Burlesque,” happened to be the most difficult to coordinate, Lesley Ferris, interim chair of the Department of Theatre, said.
To be performed by Sicilian troupe Compagnia Sud Costa Occidentale, the production, set to run from Sept. 3-5, came stateside as the result of a lengthy advocacy from graduate student Francesca Spedalieri.
“She had this dream of possibly bringing them, and we thought it was impossible,” Ferris said. “But she did a proposal, and we all thought it was great, but we didn’t have the money. Obviously, something like that is very expensive. A donor, who was anonymous, loved it and the fact that it was a student-driven initiative.”
“Operetta Burlesque’s” protagonist, Pietro, is a young man from an Italian village who identifies as a woman.
Ferris said the play’s director, Emma Dante, uses her work to discuss social issues.
“It will be great for us to see these issues addressed in a completely different culture,” she said.
Ferris said the logistics of bringing in a foreign theatre company brought challenges, as well as opportunities, for cultural exchange.
“All of the company have never been to the United States before, so we had to get visas and all that,” she said. “They also made a request that they play American baseball while they’re here. So on Labor Day, our graduate student organization has set up a baseball game, and the grad students will be playing with them too.”
“Operetta Burlesque” is set to run at the Drake Performance and Event Center at 7:30 p.m. each night.
The theater department’s international connections and ventures also include a budding partnership with the Royal Shakespeare Company.
After touring extensively in the United Kingdom, the Royal Shakespeare Company brought “The Taming of the Shrew” to Columbus in April for the only U.S. performances of its production.
OSU also co-produced “The Tempest” with the Royal Shakespeare Company over the summer and performed it for autistic children.
The department’s work with autistic children will continue in November when graduate students plan to create a new work using the Hunter Heartbeat Method, a system created by Kelly Hunter that uses Shakespeare to reach those with autism, according to Ferris. Part of the method hinges on the theory that performances in iambic pentameter, which has a rhythm similar to a heartbeat, puts autistic children at ease and makes language less foreign.
“It’s really rewarding to see non-verbal children speaking even a few words,” Ferris said.
Unlike the extensive planning that brings “Operetta Burlesque” to the states, the November production is still in its infancy. The development of the script by students is part of the MFA Acting Outreach and Engagement Project.
“Our department is unusual in that we are committed to creating new works. There’s no script yet, but at the end of (this project), there will be,” Ferris said.
OSU’s Nisonger Center, which does research on developmental disabilities, is also currently studying the efficacy of the Hunter Heartbeat Method.
Additionally, OSU will have two productions this fall that feature its undergraduate actors.
The first is “The Norwegians,” a comedy about women hiring Norwegian hitmen in Minnesota to kill their ex-boyfriends. It is set to run October 1-5.
The second is a jazz musical that pays homage to the 1940 film noir called “City of Angels,” which is set to run Oct. 30 to Nov. 9. The play combines the story of a novelist with that of his protagonist, a private eye. The play walks the line of surrealism as a creator interacts with his fictional creation.
The theater department also plans to host 10 small productions of student scripts throughout the semester as part of its Lab Series.
Each production in the series is free to the public and requires students to develop their plays on a zero-budget model.
“It’s all the way from stage readings of new scripts to a short solo piece, or a play that a student wrote and directed,” Ferris said. “It’s given so many of our undergrads way more opportunities to do stage work.”
Full schedules of the theatre department’s fall productions are available at theatre.osu.edu.
This is the first of five stories The Lantern will run this week previewing the upcoming works of Ohio State’s arts departments. The series will also include film, dance, fine arts and music.