an overview of student-run theater
Brown is blessed with a thriving theater scene. In addition to the faculty- and student-run group called Sock and Buskin, there are five student-run theater groups on campus. I sat down with a representative from each student-run group in an attempt to sort through the chaos and learn more about each group’s defining characteristics. What follows are excerpts from my conversations. Whether you are interested in seeing a show, joining a group, or simply learning more about the activities in which your fellow Brown students are involved, there are more than enough outlets to satisfy your theater needs!
“Brown Opera Productions (BOP) is a student-run organization at Brown University committed to creating lively spaces for opera performance and appreciation.” – BOP website
What do you think makes BOP unique among other student-run theater groups?
Paul Martino ’16, junior chairperson of BOP: We are the only group on campus that does fully staged operas. We’re also one of the very few student-run opera groups in the country, so that makes us very unique.
What is your favorite BOP show in which you have participated?
PM: This past semester we did “Maria de Buenos Aires,” which is very exciting because it is a tango opera, and it was also the first time this opera was performed in North America. Getting the scores was actually very difficult. We had to get in touch with an opera company in France who did this work five years ago, and they sent us a copy of the scores. It was such a fun experience to be interacting with this other opera group completely on the other side of the world.
On getting people interested in opera: I feel like people are often really intimidated by [opera], and a lot of our efforts go into bringing opera to the public and the student body … The average person can enjoy opera. You don’t need to have four years of music theory under your belt and five European history courses.
“Musical Forum (MF) … is an entirely student-run group at Brown University dedicated to the production of musical theatre by the student body.” – MF website
What has been your greatest challenge so far in working with MF?
Andrew Colpitts ’16, chair of the MF Board: I think that the biggest challenge that we faced was last spring when we started the Mini Musical Festival. That [type of student-written musical performance] had been something that took place many years ago through another organization that no longer exists. It was called Brownbrokers. Since that organization no longer exists, there was no longer any sort of student-written musical theater happening on campus in any cohesive way. We decided that we really wanted to see this happen. It was tricky trying to find people who were willing to do it, and also to organize the space and everything. The first time around it was messy at times, but people really came together. The casts were great. The shows were so much fun.
What do you think is the most rewarding aspect of being involved in MF?
AC: I think it’s twofold. One is, of course, going to see the shows, seeing how much the audience enjoys it, and how much joy it brings to people who watch it. But equally, how much joy it brings all of the people in the process and how devoted people are to lighting or to set, or to acting or music, or directing. People give 110 percent. Most shows rehearse six days a week, four hours a day. That’s twenty-four hours. That’s more than a part-time job, just for the love of it. That kind of effort really shows.
“BUGS [Brown University Gilbert and Sullivan] is an undergraduate-led theater group dedicated to the production of high-quality Gilbert and Sullivan operas and related works for the enjoyment of Brown students and the wider community.” – BUGS website
What do you think makes BUGS unique among other student-run theater groups?
Emma Dickson ’16, president of BUGS: There are a couple of functional, logistical things that make BUGS unique, the first being that we accept basically anyone to audition, including Providence community members, professors, and high school students. We have a broader range of ages, and I think therefore in experience.
We’re so young as an organization, so we’re still figuring out what we’re doing … We started out having our performances as this little student group in the Grad Center lounge and then did performances on stage in the List big lecture hall and then moved to Alumnae [Hall]. So we’ve really made a lot of progress in 10 years. Because we’re so young, we have that flexibility and that adaptability to amend our constitution and start doing non-Gilbert and Sullivan shows, which we did a couple of years ago.
The last thing I’d say is that I think BUGS is really a wonderfully welcoming group on campus. The other groups are too of course, but the fact that our shows often have very large casts and our auditions are open really allows us to take in everyone who wants to be involved and form a large, inclusive community.
What has been your greatest challenge so far in working with BUGS?
ED: I think my greatest challenge has been making sure that we as a group continue to challenge ourselves to grow and improve in quality and experience for everyone involved and [to increase] diversity of the kinds of shows that we put on … while at the same time remaining true to the fact that we are a Gilbert and Sullivan group. There are other groups on campus that do just musical theater more broadly, and we don’t fill the same niche as them. But we want to expand more beyond just G&S, which is what we’ve been working on doing for the last two years.
“PW [Production Workshop] is a non-profit student theatre here at Brown University.” – PW website
What makes PW unique among other student-run theater groups?
Marty Strauss ’16, PW Board member: One of the big things that makes PW unique is that we have our own space. We have our own set of theaters and workshops that it’s our responsibility to take care of … It’s very open-ended, whereas a lot of the other groups have guidelines for what they’re doing, like Shakespeare and musicals and stuff like that. [In PW], you can do pretty much anything you want as long as you make a case for it. And that’s really exciting for me. It’s just totally students all doing what they want for each other.
What role do you play in helping PW run?
MS: Right now there are 11 people active on the Board, and what’s exciting about it is it’s totally non-hierarchical. Of course, there’s a natural hierarchy in terms of who’s older and who’s been around longer, but besides that there’s no president or chair. We each have a number of different jobs that we do and we all get together and pitch in in different ways.
What do you think is the most rewarding aspect of being involved in PW?
MS: I think the most magical part of it is that you get to help other people realize their dreams. People have these visions for projects that they want to create to have a real impact on people, and a lot of times we only have so much space and we have to say no. But the best thing is being able to say yes, really loudly, really resoundingly, and then putting in all the work to help make someone else’s vision turn into a reality. It’s immensely rewarding to see those things from start to finish.
“Shakespeare on the Green [SotG] is Brown University’s theater troupe dedicated to outdoor and site-specific theater.” – SotG website
What makes SotG unique among the other student-run theater groups?
Anna Stacy ’17, chair of SotG: I would say the most unique thing about SotG is that we’re site-specific. Site-specific theater is theater that’s not performed in a traditional venue, like a theater. We perform on the Main Green and the Manning Chapel, in the Bamboo Garden, all over campus in nontraditional locations. I think that’s a really compelling format because that allows people to stumble upon a space and just become part of the audience.
What has been your greatest challenge so far in working with SotG?
AS: Site-specific theater is always tough because you have to grapple with weather, you have to grapple with traffic. If cars are going past you have to just keep acting. If a siren is going off through the middle of your big monologue, you have to let it happen. But those are challenges that are possible for any site-specific theater group and I would totally, happily take those challenges [along] with the benefits of site-specific theater.
On getting involved with theater: Personally, I found it so overwhelming when I came here. My high school had a theater group and a little bit of student theater. So the opportunities were so exciting, but also I know a lot of people were really afraid to go for things because they weren’t sure if they were good enough … I totally encourage anybody to just go for it. There’s never any experience required. We’re all so happy to teach people and to work with people. Theater’s about sharing communication. If we can’t encourage people who haven’t done anything before to do that, then we’ve failed our job from the beginning.
Be sure to check out each group’s upcoming productions. You won’t be disappointed!