For the past few years, Ben Swope ’99 has been lighting up Broadway—currently as associate lighting designer for The Realistic Joneses, “an outrageous, inside look at the people who live next door, the truths we think we know, and the secrets we never imagined we all might share.” His earlier Broadway productions include Fela! which tells the story of the great Nigerian musician Fela Kuti through his songs and the choreography of Bill T. Jones, and Ann, a one-woman show about Ann Richards, the Texas Democrat who jabbed that George W. Bush “was born with a silver foot in his mouth” during the 1988 Democratic national convention.
Swope majored in theatre design and production at Keene State, specializing in lighting design, and his career path has obviously paid off. “I am proud to say that between that study and the personal experience I brought to KSC, I was able to begin working professionally immediately after graduating in 1999,” Swope said, “first as an intern at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Williamstown, MA, and then as the production electrician at the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston where I oversaw crews installing and setting the lighting for the productions.”
Always looking to expand his horizons, Swope went on to earn an MFA at NYU’s Tisch School for the Arts. “My career in the theatrical lighting industry is broad and expands beyond the bounds of theatre,” Swope explained. “I am part of a team of designers who light retail windows for Tiffany’s flagship store on Fifth Ave. in NYC as well as for the Barney’s store and Cole Haan’s flagship at Rockefeller Center. I have also worked as an assistant to a few architectural lighting designers. … In 2013, I visited 11 countries as the lighting designer and production supervisor for the Battery Dance Company’s Dance to Connect program, which takes dance and movement to underserved communities in all corners of the world. Our 2013 tour included Greece, Romania, Hungary, Georgia, Macedonia, Malta, Germany, Laos, Thailand, and Nigeria. It is one of the most exciting opportunities this career has offered as I am able to visit places I would otherwise not likely visit.”
Sounds like a rewarding career, doesn’t it? “I’m proud to have made it where I am today and hope I can continue to grow personally and professionally,” Swope said.
Four KSC students—history majors Kyle O’Brien and Alexander Habibi, theatre and dance major Matt McDougal, and music major Jordan Chase—will be presenting at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) at the University of Kentucky from April 3–5.
Sending four students to the conference is a real accomplishment for the students and the college, according to Dean of Arts & Humanities Andrew Harris. NCUR is the largest undergraduate research conference in North America, featuring over 2,000 student presentations and reflecting all disciplines in higher education. “It is the kind of conference that we ought to seek out for more of our students, as it offers them a wonderful opportunity to present their work in front of students from colleges and universities all over the country. Student presentation there speaks not only to the quality of student research required for acceptance, but also to the institutional culture that supports a high level of student scholarship and faculty mentoring,” Dr. Harris explained. Keene State is the only institution in New Hampshire that is sending students this year.
Matt McDougal will be presenting about his work performing 35 different roles in the production of the one-man Pulitzer Prize winning play I Am My Own Wife, written by Doug Wright and directed here at Keene State by Timothy L’Ecuyer. “This play tells the true story of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, a German transvestite who lived openly in East Berlin through both the Nazi and Communist regimes,” McDougal said. “Like the playwright during the creation of the play, it was my job as the actor to research the given circumstances of the story in order to create a more informed and authentic theatrical production. This included research of the characters spanning a wide range of ages and nationalities, settings across two continents, and backgrounds behind two of the most complex historical eras of the millennium: Nazi and Communist Germany. This is all presented within the social and political contexts of queer culture. Additionally, linguistic research was necessary to portray the diverse characters represented throughout the play. Through slides, lecture, and performance examples, the application of this research will be demonstrated to conference audience members.”
Jordan Chase’s project, “Orchestration of a Large-Scale Music Composition,” is a reflection of the project he completed over the summer under a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) grant. “Receiving the SURF grant gave me the opportunity to learn about the orchestral instruments and apply the knowledge I learned to my compositional studies,” Chase said. “The study of instrumentation, orchestration, and formal structure in music enhanced my understanding of music theory at its core and of the compositional process as a whole. At the NCUR conference I plan to explain the musical concepts I learned and how I applied them to my composition, Foreign Comfort. Throughout the presentation I will play excerpts of my piece, demonstrating specific references and ideas to the audience. I am hoping to conclude with a full playback of one of the movements and a brief question-and-answer session. I definitely believe this opportunity will enhance my future, because I’ll gain valuable assets and skills along with a great deal of responsibility and self-confidence.”
Alexander Habibi’s research project focuses on the philosophy of the South African anti-apartheid activist Steven Biko, who is credited with founding the Black Consciousness movement that sought to unite and instill pride in oppressed black South Africans during the apartheid era. Biko was detained at a roadblock, tortured, and murdered by security police. “I chose the topic because I studied abroad in Cape Town last spring semester and was fascinated by the struggle South Africans waged against an oppressive, minority-ruled state,” Habibi explained. “While Biko’s ideas were popular among the black South African youth during the radical 1970s, many South Africans my age that I met were either apolitical or so concerned with daily survival that radical politics didn’t seem practical in post-apartheid South Africa. … Although my project is a bit abstract and intellectual, I think it’s a task that involves knowing enough about philosophy to understand how an actual person absorbed ideas and put them into effect. … I owe my acceptance to my advisor, Dr. Nicholas Germana, who not only revised all four drafts of my abstract, but helped me understand many of the complicated philosophical aspects I’d be dealing with.”
Kyle O’Brien will be presenting a paper, “Lifting the Veil,” on early German Romanticism, a literary movement in the late 18th century. The paper’s title refers to the poet-philosopher Novalis’ (Friedrich Von Hardenberg’s) ideas about the poet and his place in society. “I focus on the concept that it is the poet who can lift the veil of truth and that the poet becomes worthy to do so through a ‘circuitous journey’ in which he leaves and returns home with knowledge of the Truth, creating a return to a golden age,” O’Brien said. “My paper will incorporate romantic notions about sexuality, epistemology, and semiotics. I focused on this topic because I’m interested in the history of philosophy generally, but I’m also interested in the nature of language and what relationship it has to reality. These early Romantics saw the world through a mytho-poetic lens that they themselves self-consciously created. Mythology and poetry are things which I think are part of and integral to the human condition; things that the contemporary world has lost sight of.”
Sixteen Theatre and Dance students attended the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, held in Hyannis, Mass., from January 28–February 1. Lukas Dimitrios Theodossiou earned stage management finalist for his work on Spring Awakening. Cara Gerardi is an Irene Ryan Acting semi-finalist, Alissa Toscano won a Meritorious Award in Allied Craft for her exquisite Mad Hatter marionette, and Taylor Ciambra is National Dramaturgy Award first runner-up for her work on The Tempest.
As you might expect, the students find attending the festival richly rewarding. “I always enjoy bringing my work to the festival and having industry professionals respond to it,” claimed student Michael Portrie. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to have somebody look at your work outside of an academic setting.”
Taylor Ciambra gained a lot of confidence from the workshops and having her presentation judged. “I realized that this was not about competing with the girls around me; it was about individual enhancement that would advance the community and the field,” she said. “Not only did I learn a lot of practice-related information and new ways to think about plays critically, the festival gave me a more personal gift. The people I met and the work I did all corroborated that I was becoming a good dramaturge, a good artist. No matter my doubts, I’m onto something.”
The workshops often created real-world scenarios for these up-and-coming performers. A Broadway choreographer for Chicago led one of them. “She was so helpful in telling us exactly what she, as a choreographer, looks for in a dancer at professional auditions,” said Ally Doyle. “She then taught us a phrase of dance from Chicago and critiqued us one by one, telling us why she would or wouldn’t hire us. Because Keene State doesn’t have a musical theatre program, and it is my individualized major, I found it extremely helpful to be able to get that feedback.”
What’s a swing dresser? It’s a stagehand who maintains the quality of the costumes worn in a theatrical performance, each time it’s performed. Dressers are responsible for assisting cast members with backstage costume changes, when necessary, and they often assist with quick costume changes. As a swing dresser with The Book of Mormon on Broadway, Molly Jae Chase ’10 had to learn six of the dressing tracks for the show so she can handle one of them at any time. “At TheBook of Mormon they are all extremely fast paced and heavy loads with around 30 quick changes each,” Molly explained. “It is extremely hard work, but the most fun I’ve ever had at work.”
Though she originally wanted to be onstage, Molly fell in love with dressing when she filled an empty dresser’s slot for the production of Fat Men in Skirts during her junior year. “From that moment I spent more and more time in the costume shop during my time at Keene State, and with the guidance of the incredible professors in the KSC TAD program I have been dressing fairly steadily ever since,” Molly said.
It seems that Molly acquired more than just technical skills as a Theatre and Dance major at KSC. “I learned how to be confident in both myself and my craft,” she said. “I learned about the importance of professionalism, and community. I learned how to think outside the box and not be afraid to take risks. I learned about hard work and versatility and drive, just to name a few.”
“Our program has something every school should be jealous of, and that is teachers who inspire,” Molly remembered. “The professors make sure that they reach out to every student in every class and somehow make the students crave learning about their craft. We have an extremely driven department that makes sure we not only have the skills we need to do the things we want, but also the skills in crafts that affect what we want to do. As someone who focused on costumes, I also had to take carpentry, acting, and scene painting, etc. Some students took a directing or a stage-managing class. And students studying to be actors or dancers had to have one credit that had them participate as part of the backstage crew, and vice versa. We were constantly inspired by our mentors, and they taught us that hard work is the only way to really get where you want to go, and that you can do it without being cutthroat.”
Design and Technical Theater major Christopher Bell ’11 was recently back at the Redfern, working behind the scenes with Pilobolus for their big show in October. Shawn Ahern ’10 introduced Bell to some of the Pilobolus executives, who said they were interested in having Bell intern with them, and he jumped at the chance. “The first time they performed at Keene State in 2007, they really inspired me, and I knew how great it would be to work for them,” Bell said. “I really enjoyed their organic process and how family oriented they are. I was able to learn many different sides of the business while also channeling my own creative energy into something tangible.”
Since Pilobolus is a world-renowned company that works with artist all over the world, Bell’s work with them opened the door to many important professional connections. “I hooked into a group of artists that were creating the holiday window for Bergdorf Goodman, the luxury-goods department store on Fifth Ave. in Manhattan, and they were looking for someone of my skill set,” Bell explained. Not long into that project, it became apparent that Bell would need some help. “I mentioned Gary Beisaw [’12] to them. They had a phone interview with him that night, and Gary flew out from Texas a few days later.”
“The project involved a process called resin casting which was I was not too familiar with,” Bell recalled. “It required lots of mold making and very precise chemistry to create pieces of art to be used in the display. I never expected to be doing anything like this, but my professors at Keene were very adamant about staying open to new things and to keep challenging yourself. It wasn’t about what the degree did for you; it was about what you did with the degree.”
“When I left Keene, I took the opportunity to try everything. Though my degree is in Technical/Design, I took classes in dance and acting and even did some performing. I was constantly striving to be well-rounded. My professors always stressed the importance of collaboration. The conversation between directors, performers, designers, and technicians is vital, and I wanted to understand things from all these perspectives. That let me acquire new skills, and I was able to keep creating, which is what I most enjoy. My hope is that I will never be complacent and I’ll continue to grow and challenge myself as an artist.”
KSC’s Theatre and Dance Department has opened a new play festival called The Premiere Series that runs through the month of October. The series consists of four original plays written by Keene State students with each play to be performed twice as a staged reading. The first play, Thanksgiving, by Taylor Jorgensen, was performed on October 3 and 4.
Here’s the schedule for the rest of the month:
Oct. 9–10: The Speck in My Eye by Sarah Croitoru
Oct. 16–17: Love, Life and Liberty by Hersch Rothmel
Oct. 23–24: Bigfoot by Daniel Bullard
All plays begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Wright Theatre of the Redfern Arts Center. For tickets, call the Box Office at 358-2168 or visit keene.edu/racbp.
Sharon Fantl, the Redfern Art Center’s assistant director, has secured a grant through the New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA) to allow the cast members of Word Becomes Flesh to discuss issues of diversity and social justice with local community members. Fantl is reaching out to KSC classes, local social-service agencies, educators from various disciplines within Keene High School, youth, and members of such on-campus offices as the Office of Diversity and Multiculturalism to invite them to participate in these discussions. Word Becomes Flesh will be performed at the Redfern Arts Center on Wednesday, October 2, at 7:30 p.m. Assistant Professor of Communication Jamie Landau will give a pre-performance talk on masculinity and patriarchal gender norms in parenting, and there will be a moderated discussion in the lobby after the performance. Continue reading Word Becomes Flesh Cast Reaches out to Community→
KSC Theatre and Dance faculty and students carried home an impressive collection of awards and honors from Region I’s Kennedy Center American College Festival, held this year at the Conference Center at Hyannis, Mass., from January 29–Feburary 2.
The Production team from Dracula, including Director Dan Patterson, Costume Designer Mary Robarge, Scenic Designer Tiffany Dalian, Lighting Designer and Special Effects and Projections Jeremy Robarge (assisted by Michael Portrie), and Technical Director Craig Lindsay, won the Merit Award for Excellence in Technical Production. Will Adams garnered a National Award for Excellence in Sound Design Honorable Mention for his work on the play. Continue reading Theatre & Dance Dept. Shines at American College Festival→
The Redfern Arts Center has made the dilemma of Christmas-gift giving a lot easier by offering alumni discounts on tickets. KSC alumni receive discounts of $5–$10 per ticket, depending on the event, for all the Redfern’s exciting season events.
Gilly knows where she wants to go, and how to get there. After graduation, she worked as a sound intern for the Trinity Repertory Company. After that, she continued to work in audio, “Taking whatever gigs I could,” she said. “Besides theater, I have also done a lot of corporate and themed production work. Taking time off and actually working in my field I think helped me get accepted. I developed not only good technical skills, but I gained a lot of interpersonal skills and developed a clear vision of how I want to approach my goals artistically. I was also able to meet ‘sound guys’ who were up to date in the industry, and who also wanted to be my friends and mentors.
“The theatre profs at KSC taught me how to work and talk with people in a very creative, collaborative, and challenging environment. Which is what you often find yourself in in theatre!” Sounds like that’s a lesson she learned well. If you know Gilly, drop her a comment.
Wasn’t it just a month ago that we told you about Anthony Bishop ’94, the art director for the new NBC game show Who’s Still Standing? By the time that story ran, Anthony was already moving onto bigger things. He was also the art director for Madonna’s stunning halftime show at Superbowl LXVI, as well as for the Pregame and Tailgate Party featuring Lenny Kravitz and the Fray.
“Just what does the art director do?” you might ask (like I did).
“It is my responsibility to carry out the production designer’s vision by way of renderings and technical drafting that communicate the design to the artist, the client, the team, and the vendors who fabricate all the pieces of the puzzle,” Anthony explained. “I also have to manage the vendors, often via phone, as they build the design because changes from the client continue to trickle in until we get on camera. Next there is the onsite scope, the ‘load in,” where I oversee all the pieces of the puzzle and coordinate communication between each vendor as we all work together in what is typically a 10-day process from delivery to show day. However, the Superbowl was a four-week process, since a football stadium is not our typical venue. Ultimately, I oversee the production’s overall artistic look on camera and am responsible for problem solving when something we designed doesn’t work.” Continue reading Anthony Bishop ’94 Art Directs Superbowl Halftime Show→
Four KSC Theatre and Dance Design students recently presented their work at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival and received great feedback from a panel of professional experts, who praised their designs. Alexandra Vendt, lighting designer for Agnes of God; Gary Beisaw, props designer for The Rocky Horror Show; and Michael Portrie, sound designer for The Rocky Horror Show, were nominated as finalist.
Gary Beisaw won the S.P.A.M. Award for excellence in stage properties for his design for The Rocky Horror Show.
Alexandra Vendt won the Stagecraft Institute of Las Vegas Award for excellence in design-technology for her lighting design for Agnes of God.
Riley Ahern is one of 36 semifinalists (out of 240 students) at the KCACTF.
Continuing its 30th anniversary season, the Redfern Arts Center at Keene State College (KSC) will present a hilarious solo show in which algorithms and sexism collide. Truth Values: One Girl’s Romp Through MIT’s Male Math Maze will be performed on Thursday, February 2, at 7:30 p.m. Inspired by the actual experiences of actress-playwright and recovering mathematician Gioia De Cari, this comical one-woman play follows De Cari’s misadventures as a female PhD candidate in the elite boys club of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s math department in the 1980s.
Tickets range from $10 to $25 and can be purchased by calling the Box Office, 603-358-2168 or ordering online.