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Calvin ’19 – New York City: Theatre, Film, and the City

Quinn Cavin ’19 – I learned more in five days about storytelling in New York City than I learned in months in Crawfordsville. It’s simply a matter of the extreme diversity of art in New York City and the acceptance of experimental and bold stylistic choices. I saw the most inspiring shows I could imagine and had the greatest week of my life.

Acting Workshop with Marc Weitz (far left).

Acting Workshop with Marc Weitz (far left).

I was wildly surprised by where incredible theatre can come from. I saw shows on Broadway, Off Broadway, and in small local theatres. The best theatre is not congruent with size, funding, or location. I saw the largest show I have ever seen at the largest proscenium I have ever attended, Fiddler on the Roof at the Broadway Theatre. It was far from the best piece of theatre I have ever seen. The large crowds destroyed any notion of intimacy I had with the actors. Because I was not emotionally attached to any of the actors, I could not sympathize and was not invested in the story. I was not seduced by the choreography and underwhelmed by the music. However, in a theatre seating less than 30 people, I saw the most indescribably fascinating and surreal show I could even imagine. Ship of Fools was far from flawless, inexperienced, and potentially vexing to some viewers. But it was majestic and raw. Fiddler on the Roof felt boring, because it was safe and simple. However, I may never forget, but may always struggle to explain the symbolism and effects in Ship of Fools because it was the most unique and sophisticated spectacle I have had to pleasure of experiencing.

My full attention and emotional investment was captured by Sleep No More. Unlike large Broadway musicals, I was eminently close to the actors, within 6 feet at any given moment. This is a testament to proximity’s relationship with emotional engagement. I have never been so monumentally engulfed by a narrative, as I was with this this loose interpretation of Macbeth. Another contributing factor to my submersion is that I had choices within the show. I chose where to go, who to watch, and the view I wanted. Because the actors could interact with the spectators, we were a part of the story, too. On nearly a dozen occasions, I had some variety of physical contact with the actors. Whether this was being taken into a small hut and spoon-fed tea by a nurse, clothing a naked, wet, and crazed Lady Macbeth, or being a young woman’s last kiss after being poisoned by Hecate, I was living the story. I was inundated by the characters’ struggles and plights. I wanted to help them and I felt genuine sympathy for their quandary. It was the greatest theatrical experience I have ever encountered.

Meeting Jessica Phillips was a really important reinforcement for my understanding of how to be successful in the film and theatre industry. I collected several tidbits from conversations with her, like the necessity of networking, where social media resides within the business, and edict of interacting with the hierarchy. As important as these concepts are, the most important part is perseverance and dedication. Auditioning is critical. Especially early on, actors should audition for everything they can, if they think they are qualified or not. While between jobs, creating content is essential. Actors can make their own jobs if they are writing scripts and helping produce theatre or film. Between constantly auditioning and crafting, an actor cannot take a break.

In short, I fell completely in love with the city. The diversity of theatre to experience and people to meet is unflinchingly boundless. I was heartbroken to leave it behind.


Willats ’17 – 2016 NYC Theater Immersion

Rory Willats ’17 – It isn’t about knowing a celebrity. It’ about building a community

A week in New York City gave me the opportunity to see some inspiring theater, to eat some unforgettable food, and most importantly, talk to and learn from performers, writers, and other artists working in the city. These are people wading through the jungle of NYC theater every day to find and make their own work. Some of my most memorable talks were with Nick Rehberger, Jack Moore, Ashley Black and Emily Koch. My biggest take-away from these conversations was a shift in my understanding of an old cliché; “It’s who you know”. It truly did seem to be that who you knew mattered to finding success in the city. It wasn’t, however, though helpful, dependent on knowing a celebrity or bigwig in the theater scene. Rather, who you knew was about who you had as a support group. It’s more about your cohort, the friends to remind you of your passion, to keep you on your feet, to find a way to enjoy a 400 sq ft. apartment in a city where leaving that apartment seems to cost $20.

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Acting with the Camera exercises at The Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens.

Originally, I thought “It’s who you know,” was a bitter way to express dissatisfaction that the theater scene isn’t a meritocracy and that, “if only I had known the right person – that’s all it took for what’s-his-face and I’m better than him!” And there is certainly merit to looking for upper connections in the business to learn from the best. In our lunch talk with Jack Phillips Moore, Literary Associate at The Public, he encouraged us to email those in the business we admired and ask to grab coffee and talk about their work. After all, “everyone LOVES two things: coffee and talking about themselves.” Jack emphasized that people in the business recognize the struggle of the emerging artist and usually want to help. I took from this that it is advantageous to know people in the business, to find the best and learn from them. However, that doesn’t have to be a product of fate. Rather, you can take it upon yourself to meet the who’s of the, “who you know.” It isn’t that the only way to make it in New York is to have a connection when you move. You can move and make the connection.

Jack also talked about how through connections with friends, through being willing to work hard and developing a cohort, the connections that create a career are made. He told us to volunteer to help on as many projects as possible. Which will later yield work is impossible to know. His position at The Public stems from a job he got only because a friend of his told him about it and encouraged him to apply. Similarly, Nick Rehberger, who played Fyedka, and Tess Primack, ensemble and swing for four roles in the production of Fiddler on the Roof, talked after the show about their journeys to Broadway. Both leant heavily on their friends from undergrad for support and business connections. They told each other about auditions and entertained each other through nights of crummy apartment living and rejections.

This was reinforced when I met Emily. After our last show of the trip, I stopped by a friend’s birthday party. I had met this friend, Stephanie, at a workshop for a show the previous summer. I didn’t, however, know any of her friends. Nervously, I started chatting with the woman next to me. I would later find out that her name was Emily, she had just left a run of playing Elphaba in Wicked for two years and that she wasn’t allowed to talk about her next project. She was tearing up the city, knew great connections and now I had met and befriended her. All through a connection from a weekend-long gig months ago

Originally I found the phrase, “it’s who you know,” disheartening. I don’t have an agent. I don’t know casting directors. I know very few people in the city. However, now I realize that what’s more important is knowing good friends, building a good support system. And now, I’m encouraged by the phrase. I’m graduating with a strong, caring and generous cohort from Wabash and am ready to lean on them for support and inspiration as I tackle the theater scene at large.


Swift ’18 – Reflection on New York Immersion Trip

Henry Swift ’18 – New York is the capital of the world, it’s the Big Apple, it’s America’s metropolis. It is a melting pot that brings people from every walk of life in the same area and forces them to cooperate. New York is America’s theater capital because it is so diverse. It has shaped the American theater since there was an American theater. Broadway is big and beautiful and showy, but the real action in theater is happening off Broadway. The off-Broadway shows that we saw moved me more because they explored more emotions and issues. Off-Broadway shows like Nat Turner in Jerusalem used theater as a tool to explore issues that Broadway shows cannot touch.

The crew in front of the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park.

I learned that New York lives up to the stereotypes. Everyone walks fast, no one makes eye contact, everything is kind of dirty, the people are not friendly, but it is diverse, and no one cares what you do. This is all true because it has to be. The city is huge so people walk fast to get to where they’re going, no one makes eye contact because they are surrounded by strangers, it is diverse and accepting because there are so many different ethnicities represented in the city that people do not have time to care about racial differences. New York is New York because it has to be.

New York was brilliant, it was loud and bright and private and overwhelming. I learned that the appearance of a show or restaurant does not tell us about its quality. The worst looking restaurants and the most modest shows were my favorites. Teachers have been telling me that looks are deceiving since I was a first grader, but the trip gave me a better idea of what they meant. This trip helped through another step of my education and helped me to think critically about what makes something worthwhile.