At the 70th annual Tony Awards, seven alumni of the Carnegie Mellon University school of Drama were nominated for various awards from Best Costume Design of a Musical to Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical. Of those seven, two actors, Leslie Odom Jr. and Renée Elise Goldsberry went on to win for Best Actor and Best Featured Actress respectively. The span of the nominees is decades long the earliest being 1960 to 2004. The CMU School of Drama presence has a strong grip in the theatre world from Pittsburgh to Broadway. The competitive and rigorous conservatory program is still putting on seasons aimed to challenge and inspire their students like it’s upcoming 2016-2017 season.
The School of Drama presents three different series in the season, the Subscription series, the Director series, and the New Work series. Each series accommodates a different branch of students within the school. Erin Scott, the Director of Marketing and Communications for the School of Drama, spoke to the selection of the season. At the beginning of each year the CMU faculty gathers a committee to select the season where they consider material that will engage and challenge their student body, particularly the juniors and seniors, who will be the constituency that performs, directs, designs and manages the shows. The whole School of Drama community is welcome to propose plays and musicals they are interested in producing. After proposals have been submitted, they compare what we discussed relative to the needs of the student body to what the community is interested in producing and go from there. Scott said, “We really keep the students at the center of the process.” The Mainstage productions in the Subscription Series are all directed, choreographed, and musically directed by professionals, the students still have lots of power in making creative decisions. The sets, lights, and costumes are all designed and created by the School of Drama. The Subscription Series includes four Mainstage shows, The Playboy of the Western World, The Rover, Ragtime, and The Three Musketeers.
The Playboy of the Western World directed by faculty member Don Wadsworth will run Oct. 6-15. Written by John Millington Synge is set in early 1900s Ireland uses heavy amounts of poetic and evocative language in telling the story of a young man running away from his farm claiming he killed his father. A comedic play, The Rover, from Aphra Behn, the first known female playwright runs Nov. 17-19 and Nov 29 – Dec 3. Dave Bond, head of acting at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff, Wales, will direct the hilarious and lustful adventures of a group of Englishmen. Ragtime will be the only musical helmed at the School of Drama this season from Feb. 23 – March 4, just like last season’s The Full Monty directed by alumnus, Patrick Wilson. Ragtime and The Full Monty couldn’t be more polar. Ragtime, composed by Pittsburgh native, Stephen Flaherty, depicts the racial and classist struggles at the turn of the century in America. With diversity as one of the most pressing topics in the theatre community, Erin Scott added, “We in the School of Drama are very keen to represent all of our students and their varying backgrounds and identities in the work we create, so yes, this always factors into our season selection.” The poignant and sweeping drama will still have plenty of relevancy today. The School of Drama turns to gender for inspiration for their last show, The Three Musketeers. This production directed by Andrew Smith will become unapologetically feminist when dramaturg Megan Monaghan Rivas re-writes one of the Musketeers to be a woman. “This season is particularly interesting because it explores a number of really salient political issues through different historical lenses,” said Scott.
The Director series allows students within The John Wells Directing Program a chance to mount plays. The series includes, Mr. Marmalade, a black comedy about how a four-year-old girl views adult life. Wife U is an adaptation of Moliere’s School for Wives, I’m Very into You a piece created through the emails of two people 7,500 miles away from the other, Edward II is one of English’s earliest plays, Gruesome Playground Injuries which follows the relationship of two childhood friends, boom where a scientist turns his apartment into a shelter for the imminent end of the world in the hopes he can remake humanity, and “Hybrid” a music video/documentary by Joe Hill. The New Works Series, which highlights the work of graduate student playwrights, will be Oct. 26-29, and again in the spring, April 12-15. Professor Peter Cooke, head of the School of Drama, said, “A cavalcade of societal and theatrical fireworks drawn from 400 years of dramatic invention lies ahead in the 2016-2017 season.”
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