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Ohio State student thespians experiment in lab series

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The lights, costumes and music can all be sensorially evocative of a night out in a modern theater. All the flaws and virtues of the actors are heightened when you reduce the stage to people in a box — but the basics are the same. For Ohio State undergrads in theater, there’s a forum to hone their craft without the distractions.

Select students are staging their own creative visions this fall as a part of the Ohio State Department of Theatre’s Lab Series, which has been presenting student-written and directed works every term since 2011.

The Lab Series, formed and coordinated by Jennifer Schlueter — assistant professor and director of undergraduate studies for the Department of Theatre ­— is described by the department as a “student-driven, department-nurtured production series” that allows students to develop and show their own creative content as part of a sequence of black box, zero-dollar budget performances.

One of the first student-authored works to be shown in the series was written by Cecelia Bellomy, a second-year student studying English and theater with a concentration in creative writing. Bellomy’s piece, “The Swing Set,” is a dramatic stage reading based on a 45-page script she wrote during the summer.

“‘The Swing Set’ is about a recent college graduate named Hanna, and it mainly takes place in her childhood backyard,” Bellomy said. “It’s about confronting anxieties and coming to terms with who you are, including the good things, the bad things and any uncertainty about the future.”

Because getting a desired role in the Department of Theatre’s main-stage productions can be a rarity for theater students, the Lab Series is a way for them to get the spotlight in a performance and have creative control, even if the audience isn’t as large, Bellomy said.

“It’s also a way to practice your skills, try new things and collaborate with people you haven’t worked with before,” she said.

“The Swing Set” is scheduled for a 7 p.m. performance Tuesday in the New Works Lab, room 2060 at the Drake Performance and Event Center. 

Second-year theater students Eduardo Lozano and John Quigley have a bit of history working on scripts together, and they said there was no hesitation in their decision to submit their play “Bushido” to be performed in the Lab Series.

“One day, we ended up talking outside of (William Oxley) Thompson (Memorial) Library for an hour and a half about our idea for the play,” Lozano said. “I love writing and John has brilliant ideas, so we just put two and two together.”

The students quickly had the script for “Bushido” typed and edited and were later pleased to find that the play — which Lozano said touches on events and complications regarding a love triangle — was selected as one of the nine productions to be shown in the series this semester.

“This is a chance for us to branch out, expand and be creative,” Quigley said. “We’re absolutely going to grow from this.”  

Since meeting in an intro to theatre class their freshman year, Lozano and Quigley have been working together as an artistic team, they said. Recently, they won first place in a short film contest at the Gateway Film Center for their video “Payback,” which already has a sequel in the making.

“Bushido” is also being shown at 7 p.m. in the New Works Lab at the Drake at the end of October. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Both students have appeared in Lab Series performances as actors, but this is the first time their own content is being featured.

“I just want to stress that anyone who’s interested in film or theater can do this,” Lozano said. “If you have an imagination, you can write a great piece.”

Schlueter has been the sole coordinator of the Lab Series since its opening, but a string of her graduate student assistants — including Francesca Spedalieri, Max Glenn, Elizabeth Harelik and Shelby Brewster — have aided in sustaining and enriching the program, she said.

“What’s great about this is that the grad students get the experience of mentoring undergraduate work and of being a producer for a high turnover production series,” Schlueter said. “This is beneficial for them when they enter the professional world.”

The Lab Series has staged 55 pieces since it began, and 40 of those works are student-devised, Schlueter said. Applications for Spring Semester 2015 will start being accepted and reviewed in October.

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