Faculty Summer Series: Daina Robins

Daina Robins, Professor of Theatre and Chair of the Theatre Department, has co-led a May term to Ireland for the past four years. Professor emeritus John Tammi led the first Ireland May term in 1996, But now Robins joins him as they take a group of students through winding cobblestone streets and incredible cliff side views. The aspect Robins loves most about leading with Tammi is the fact that he is a wonderful storyteller and has a terrific sense of humor, two things that blend right in with Irish culture.

The traditional classroom is transformed into a mystical, magical, foggy fairytale as students learn about the culture by interacting with it day in and day out.The students pile into 9-person vans and travel throughout the countryside in order to soak in everything Ireland has to offer. The trip takes you through Dublin, Belfast, Galway, and other small towns that are filled with quaint pubs, gorgeous landscapes, and rich history.

Even though Robins and Tammi have theatre backgrounds, you do not need to be a theatre major or even interested in theatre in order to partake in this incredible opportunity. Conversations spring from the rich cultural heritage that is woven into the roots of the country. Conversations of politics, history, poetry, religion, people, and politics evolve in the vans between visiting historic sites, museums, and theatres.

Primarily built as a Senior Seminar, the Irish Culture and Celtic Wisdom May term culminates in students writing a life view paper. The class gives students access to the Irish people and culture and prompts them to ask deeper questions of themselves.

 “Immersing into a culture gives you the opportunity to reflect back on your own life: What are your values? What is your belief system? What is your relationship to faith, religion, politics, land, family, urban life, art?”

This term is three plus weeks of self-exploration through the study of Celtic culture, Irish people, and the way others live and breathe the same way we do on the other side of the ocean.

Devising Workshop with Rich Perez

The DeWitt stage was the location for the first of a workshop series for the launch of  faculty member Rich Perez’s new devised project.

The Hope College Theatre Department has a strong commitment to creating new plays and specifically devised work. The department has partnered with  Nathan Allen for Rose and the Rime (2007) and with The Hinterlands for  Goodbye Beauty, Hello Dust (2015) and recreated  The House Theatre of Chicago’s,  The Sparrow (2015).

Last spring, students devised The Line Between with Hope Theatre alums Dan Kwiatkowski and Erik Saxvik. The opportunity sparked a flame for students to use their voices and tell their own stories.

Devised theatre is a collaborative process in which the script is developed with the entire company of actors and designers.  The method can vary, but in The Line Between, students created the work through workshops, writing prompts, movement exercises, imagery,  and structured improve, to create the original play.

This upcoming spring, that flame with spark again. Faculty member Rich Perez will direct the final production of the season, a devised piece completely created by students.

The production hopes to pull influence from the classic Western and martial arts. Perez hopes to take these dominantly male genres and flip them on their heads – creating opportunities to showcase powerful women.

The workshop began with the group of students participants split into three groups – poets, musicians, and  dancers. Each group took 20 minutes to come up with a creative presentation in their area with only the word ‘transformation’ as inspiration.

20 minutes later, each group gathered and shared their performances.  The musicians had each brought an ordinary object – a fork, a knife, a box of push pins – and together they created a groovy kind of orchestra.

The dancers began spread out across stage and each started slight movements in their own time. Together they clumped in the middle, reaching toward the sky. Continuing their performance, they formed into a single file line and followed each other and repeated the movements of the leader at the front.

The poets stood up and each person read a short five to eight line poem they had wrote. Each one offered a new take on the word ‘transformation’.

Perez couldn’t have been more thrilled about the workshop.

“I felt incredibly inspired by our first devising workshop! Those who participated were courageous, energetic and worked extremely well together,” Perez said. “I was able to gain insights into our actors’ strengths and challenges, which will give them a leg-up in ensuing workshops and the subsequent audition. It is my goal is to make sure everyone is on an equal playing field when they come to audition in November. Hopefully even more people will attend our next workshop, focusing on stage violence.”

Faculty Summer Series: Richard Perez

Professor Richard Perez as Director of Water and Power with the Urban Theatre Company of Chicago

Professor Perez, known as Rich, quirky and kind, radiated a welcoming, creative presence as I took a seat across from him in his office. There is no question this Hope College professor is determined to bring diversity and edge to the program.

Before he began teaching at Hope in 2013, Rich worked as Associate Artistic Director at Chicago Dramatists. His previous experience includes actor training with Uta Hagen in New York, leadership of the Bloomington Playwrights Project in Indiana for seven years, and a season as an acting apprentice at Actors Theatre of Louisville. (Just to name a few credentials.)

With a passion for inclusion, Rich often dedicates his time and efforts to produce diverse, thought provoking theatre and this summer was no exception. As a part of the Latinx community, Rich found the perfect project to continue achieving that work.

This past May, Rich went to Chicago to direct Water and Power with the Urban Theatre Company (UTC) This play, by Richard Montoya, was originally set in Los Angeles. In order to make it more relevant to a local audience, Montoya adapted the script to take place in Chicago for the UTC production. The theatre rests in a cozy little storefront in the middle of Humboldt Park, a predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood.

Water and Power grapples with the questions of politics, power, and what it means to be “good”, in a society that often blurs the meaning of those words.  

Rich stands behind the notion that “in order to diversify the audience, you must diversify the plays.” As a man who grew up in California of Mexican heritage, and has lived in a variety of places such as New York, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan, Rich has encountered many cultures in his communities. “We enter relationships with preconceived ideas of who certain people are. Perhaps it would be easier to get along if instead we sought out our similarities instead of our differences.”

This season at Hope College, Rich is directing the play Human Error; a complex comedy that wrestles with the complexities of divisiveness between progressives and conservatives. Rich ended our interview stating, “If nothing else, theatre should initiate lively conversation, long after you leave the playhouse.” For more details about our production of Human Error click here

Faculty Summer Series: Michelle Bombe

We our proud of our faculty working professionally during their summers. In this series we meet the faculty and hear about their work!

Walking into her new office, you are greeted with an eclectic, ceramic puppet tauntingly hung with strings from the wall. Colors dance around the room and Hope’s very own Director of Theatre sits behind her desk.

Michelle Bombe, Professor of Theatre, Director of Theatre, and Resident Costume Designer (Whoa titles!) obviously wears many hats in the Department. Her hard work and dedication to the craft of theatre is what keeps the spark alive and possible for many of her students. Along with her roles during the school year, Michelle has had an active professional career with 10 summers at Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, 1 summer at Theatre at Monmouth and a total of 18 summer seasons at Hope Summer Repertory Theatre. HSRT is a professional theatre company right here on Hope’s campus. This past season, she designed the costumes for Working.

Michelle enjoyed designing a production sharing “real stories that opened up different and diverse ways of thinking” for Holland Michigan.

What made season 46 unique for Michelle was the fact that her son was offered an acting internship at HSRT just like she had been 33 years prior for season 13 at HSRT. Griffin is a senior theatre major at Hope College this year and thought it was “cool to be in a theatre [he] had looked up to [his] whole life.”

Michelle fell in love with Holland and theatre at HSRT.  She has been on the faculty at Hope since 1991. What keeps her grounded in theatre is the fact she is “in love with the idea that, as a designer, [she] is creat[ing] the world of a play.” Griffin fell hard for theatre as well, with the help of his mother, by exposing him to varieties of productions of different genres. He pursues theatre because he “loves bringing stories to life and inspiring others to tell their stories.”

We are so glad the two of them share such a deep love and passion for the arts!

Theatre Professor Publishes in Online Journal

Congratulations to Hope Theatre Professor Michelle Bombe!   Her open letter to theatre students on auditioning was published in the journal TheatreArtLife!   Check it out here:  https://theatreartlife.com/lifestyle/top-11-audition-tips-for-students/

 

I know this is hard. I know you have your heart set on a particular role. You aren’t the only one. This business is crazy. It isn’t fair. Most of the choices are not in your control. Get used to this. It is the way of our world. So what should you do?…
theatreartlife.com

The Ghostlight Project

On January 19th, 2017, theatres across the country gathered together in a national movement called The Ghostlight Project. In the theatre, the ghostlight is used as a marker of safety when the theatre is “dark”. While it is a symbolic tradition, the ghostlight also serves a real function of security. The essence of the movement is to mark theatres as safe havens from any kind of discrimination.

At 5:30pm, the Hope College Theatre Department gathered in solidarity with many theatres across our timezone. As a community, the department pledged to create a space of inclusion, participation, and compassion.

Hope students delivered prepared speeches provided by the ghostlight project at the Hope ceremony. “Like a ghostlight, the light we create tonight will represent our commitment to safeguard-it will symbolize a safe harbor for our values and for any among us who find ourselves targeted because of race, class, religion, country of origin, immigration status, ability, age, gender identity, sexual identity or dissident action in the coming years,” said junior, Akia Smith.

“And our lights will symbolize hope-a belief that through our actions change is possible,” added sophomore Jose Angulo. Jose then led a countdown as students in the department all turned on their own lights to create “a huge ghostlight” as a community.

The project gathered a total of 728 participating institutions and theatres nationwide. Each theatre was given the opportunity to make their own pledge. Hope Theatre made the following statement:

Hope Theatre pledges to be a place of safety, a place of inclusion, and a place where dialogue can flourish. A place where ALL are welcome.

To honor this commitment and to share our light for others to see, we’ve chosen this single light which will remain lit in our lobby for the remainder of the academic year.

Directing I

      Every fall, a number of students from various disciplines within the Theatre Department step off the stage and out of the wings to take on a new role- director. The Directing I class primarily focuses on how to interpret a text, collaborate with artists from all realms, lead a rehearsal process, and combine all of these skills to put together a 10-minute play. 

The class is taught by faculty member, Richard Perez, who began his career in the theatre as an actor. Perez says he discovered his passion for directing, “…more by chance. Other actor friends who needed somebody to look at, maybe a monologue, or a scene they’re working on, I would look at it for them. They would come back and say, ‘hey, you kind of know what you’re doing’ and I always enjoyed it. I also always enjoyed being in the classroom, and I knew being a teacher would be my long term goal, but I wanted to be the best actor and theatre person I could be before I came to that.”

While being novice directors, the students found that their backgrounds in theatre have given them a better idea of their personal expectations. “I like to think of the director as the hub of communication for a production,” says junior Victoria Ward. “They have to be able to speak all of the languages necessary to bring everyone together successfully, so for me having backgrounds in acting, lighting and stage managing means that I can speak their language better to help convey the designer’s idea. It also helps me when I’m thinking about aspects like blocking. How will the lighting, costumes and set influence my actors? What should I be asking of my stage manager, knowing what their job entails?” The directing class also discovered that their particular emphasis of study has given them a certain focus for their work in direction. Senior Nils Fritjofson says, “Coming from a primarily technical background has definitely caused me to focus more on the practical side of directing; so I think more about scheduling, how people are entering, where props are going, and the location of scenic elements, than most people.”

Before jumping into directing their own productions, the students had the opportunity to work with the Acting I class. They were each assigned two Acting I students and a scene to direct. Victoria Ward says, “I was very excited because I thought I was going to feel similarly to when my friends and I would work on monologues before auditions, and I was very wrong. All of a sudden I felt like a new parent with this child to raise.” While this was an entirely different experience for the Directing I class, Perez says that at this point in the process they usually realize that, “They know more than they think do. Everything you’ve experienced as an actor, that comes back to mind, and you have to trust your instincts. I think it takes a long time to do that, as any creative person knows, but more often than not I think we have really good instincts and we have to pay attention to them.” Ward explains that she gained more confidence in herself as a director as the rehearsals continued. “Once I established how I wanted to go about the process and started working with them and asking them the big questions so that they could be the ones to make the decisions, I think we all felt more comfortable.”

Having finished working with the Acting I class, the students are now tackling their 10-minute plays, which they have already chosen. Perez urges his students to find a work that really speaks to them. “If they just think it’s funny or it’s cute or it’s intense, and if it’s not really something that they feel they can uniquely tell, then why do it?” The students of course all have different things they looked for when choosing their piece. Nils Fritjofson says, “I was looking for a scene with an interesting and unusual premise, that would still be relevant to an audience our age. Scripted, the piece that I chose, follows a young couple struggling with life’s meaning after discovering a script of their entire day on their nightstand.”

After the students selected their plays, the next step in their storytelling experience was casting.  Perez tells his class that the most important thing to look for while casting is, “…actors who take direction well. You may have an actor who comes in and auditions really well but then you get into the rehearsal process and they’re pretty much stuck in that place, which certainly doesn’t serve the piece. It’s important to really work with them to see if they can listen.” Perez also urges his students to look for actors who have chemistry with each other, and who know how to be good scene partners.

Directing I is truly a unique course for theatre majors, as it is often the area of theatre that students have the least experience in. Through the process, Fritjofson says he has learned that, “…directing a scene is a journey that the director and actors go on together, and one that involves a lot of trial and error. Discoveries are shared experiences. Establishing an open space where failure is okay and ideas are encouraged allows for discoveries to occur more often and more naturally.”

Performances for the 10-minute plays will take place this Monday, November 21st and Tuesday, November 22nd at 7:00pm in the DeWitt studio theatre. Both performances are free of charge.

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The Hollows – Meet DK & Erik

The Hope College Theatre Department is excited to welcome back alumni Daniel Kwiatkowski (DK) and Erik Saxvik. DK and Erik are founding members of The Hollows, a folk/roots/rock band based in New York. The Hollows are working  with the Hope Theatre Department in order to devise a piece that will perform on the mainstage in the upcoming Spring semester.

This past weekend, theatre students could be found in the Studio Theatre with DK and Erik, participating in workshops to start the process for the devised piece. Twelve hours in the basement of DeWitt were filled with movement work, partner exercises, music, and the opportunity to create a short play.

Hope Theatre sophomores Rachel Dion and Olivia Lehnertz had the opportunity to sit down with DK and Erik and ask them what their time at Hope was like and how the idea to devise a piece came about.  

Why did you choose to attend Hope College?

DK: I had a family member that I was very close to who went to Hope, so she got me interested. And I knew I wanted to do theatre … I went to Hope, saw a production of a Sondheim review that I was really impressed with, and then when I did my DAA’s, I got a DAA [Distinguished Artist Award] Scholarship. That kinda sealed the deal. It made me feel like, ‘This is probably where I’m meant to be.’

Erik: For me, I had two friends who I graduated high school with who came here. And I took a gap year … So I came up and saw them both in two productions throughout the course of the year, and I was really impressed. It really got me excited. … I wasn’t even sure I was going to do theatre when I got here, but I knew that it could be a community or a home that I could have. Same thing, I auditioned for DAA and got it… So friends, and good productions.

Where did you live on campus?

DK: I lived on the second floor of Kollen my freshman year. To me it felt like the Wild Wild West.

Erik: I lived on Durfee third floor, and our junior year we lived in Belt cottage, and the whole house was theatre guys. The majority of my memories at Hope are from Belt cottage.

What was your favorite production at Hope?

Erik: Everything I worked on was awesome, I really enjoyed working with Daina [Robins] and John [Tammi]. But for me, the most meaningful was the 490 that DK and I did with three of our closest friends. It was our senior year here, and it was a play called Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me, it’s about 3 prisoners in a Lebanese prison. Frank McGuinness is the playwright. It’s about three guys who are chained to a wall, an Irishman, an Englishman and an American.

DK: It kinda sounds like a joke set up.

Erik: It does sound like a joke set up. DK directed it and I acted in it and did lighting design.

DK: There are so many memorable productions. My freshman year I was really lucky, I got to work with Daina both semesters, on a really great musical and Shakespeare. My last show was with Eric, The Cherry Orchard, and we were blubbering like babies when we took our final curtain call as seniors. I did three or four 490’s, and this one [Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me] was the first one I didn’t perform in, and it was the first time I ever directed a full-length play. It was really eye-opening, and just a really powerful experience all the way through.

When you were a student here, what did you think you would be doing post-graduation?

DK: It’s interesting, we thought we were gonna move to Chicago together once we got out of Hope, ‘cause it’s a good stepping stone and a decent theatre town. We found a place, and the day before we were gonna leave…

Erik: I had the lease in my hand..

DK: I was still in Michigan, I was sleeping on a buddy’s floor, Erik was back in Illinois, and Erik was like, ‘I don’t think this is the right move for me. I think I gotta go to grad school.’ So Erik went to San Francisco. A couple weeks later a buddy of mine called me and said, ‘Do you wanna move to New York with me?’ And I said yes. Come to find out, the place we were supposed to move into [in Chicago] burned to the ground. So we clearly weren’t meant to be in Chicago. When I think about my experiences in New York, and the different jobs I’ve had to do, the places it’s taken me around the world…my three best friends from Hope live in New York and we’re in a band together, we went on a national tour over the summer, now Erik and I are here [in Holland] doing this. Some days you feel like, I have so many regrets, but then there are other days where you’re like, I can’t believe I live this incredible, crazy life. Hope really did prepare me for all those things, like I wouldn’t be a carpenter in New York if it wasn’t for Paul Anderson.

Erik: I had no idea what I wanted to do. I’ve never been the type of person to set a goal for myself ten years down the road, because I always think there’d be too many opportunities that I would miss. I always try to be present and open in the moment. I never in a million years thought I would be in a band. I didn’t learn how to play guitar until I was in the band, actually, and now it’s like 95% of what I do in the band.

How did your time at Hope prepare you for life after graduation?

DK: You can think about it retrospectively, like a decade after you’ve been here, and you can pinpoint specific moments, but it’s definitely hard to see what it prepared you for and what it didn’t. The fact that we still have a strong relationship with the professors that taught us over a year ago, and working with Daina… She definitely taught me how to be committed, which goes a lot further beyond the practice of theatre. Because of Hope Summer Rep Theatre, when Erik and I moved to New York, we knew dozens and dozens of people. We already had this community, so it was not a lonely place to be.

Erik: The big difference for me between high school and college theatre, was that in college I really felt like the faculty had my back. I felt like they really only wanted me to succeed, and instilled in me an incredible amount of confidence. They believed that i was capable, no matter how hard I failed… I have very vivid memories of immediate failures onstage, but they still never made me feel like anything less than totally capable. Daina really supported me in getting my masters degree, and encouraged me to apply to the top schools. I wouldn’t be where I am today without their support.

When did you have the idea to come back to Hope and devise a piece?

Erik: It was all Daina [Robins]… A year and a half ago. She came to New York and saw the band play.

DK: She had read a couple of scripts that I had written, and she’d read a script that Erik and I wrote together. … About two years ago we started more seriously mentioning it in passing a lot more. … And then, yeah, she just came to New York and said “Let’s go to lunch.”

Erik: And I had told her years ago, after I got out of grad school, “Hey, I would love to come teach a Master Class sometime.” I just felt really compelled. There was no other relevant place for me to want to bring back, I spent three years in San Francisco … learning things and working on them. Right when I got out of school I felt immediately compelled to want to bring that back here. … The whole experience is really meaningful.