Student spends summer learning in program

Natalie Pertz, a Gannon University junior theatre major, spent six weeks this  summer at the Eugene O’Neill National Theater Institute’s “Theatermakers” program. The program lasted from the middle of June until the end of July.

Pertz originally discovered this opportunity when she approached her adviser, Paula Barrett, a communication arts instructor, in October 2011. Pertz said she wanted to do something over the summer that she could use to further herself artistically and she could put on her resume.

Pertz said that Barrett told her to look for something on her own and if she found something to run it by her.

Later Pertz got an email from Barrett that she received from the Eugene O’Neill National Theater Institute. Barrett said she had never been in the program, but she heard it was good and that Pertz should look into it.

Pertz said that one of the reasons she wanted to be in this program is because O’Neill was one of the first regional theaters in the country that was focused on the idea of the creation of new theater. She also said the ideology there is that theater is about the process and the work, not so much about the performance.

“With my previous artistic experience,” Pertz said, “I had a predominantly classical background in theater. This program helped me to receive good experience for contemporary theater.”

Four out of the six weeks of the program followed a class structure, Pertz said. At 8 a.m. the program participants would do a physical warm-up such as tai chi or yoga. Afterward they would have three classes lasting three hours each with meals in-between.

Pertz said that the class topics would vary from specific techniques and monologues to movement and leadership. Since these classes were three hours long, Pertz  said she usually ended her days at 11 p.m.

The last two weeks of the conference were set up differently. During these two weeks, Pertz said that O’Neill hosted the National Playwright’s Conference and the National Musical Theater Conference. Each conference was made up of a cast of professional equity actors.

Pertz said that in the fall of 2011, playwrights sent plays to the National Playwright’s Conference. The conference received more than 1,000 plays and, through process of elimination, it was narrowed down to eight plays to be worked on.

Once this was done, Pertz said, they contacted the playwrights to inform them that their plays made the cut. Afterward, the conference committee used the style of the play to match directors with plays. The playwright and the director had not worked together before this point.

The students at the Theatermakers program were assigned to work and observe the conferences as a “fly on the wall.” Pertz said she observed one musical and one play.

While observing, Pertz said the students learned how to conduct themselves in the rehearsal room and they also learned about theatrical communication at its best. Actors would respectfully disagree with the director, and the director could respectfully contribute to the playwright who was standing in the room.

In addition to the conferences, the last two weeks of the program were performance- based, Pertz said. She said the performances were more of read-throughs, as the actors always had scripts in their hands. The playwrights had the liberty of changing a script as often as they thought necessary.

Pertz said she was one of 16 students in the ensemble; some students were playwrights, some were actors and some were directors. Throughout the course of the program, playwrights would be given a prompt for a script that they would have two days to write. The playwrights would then cast the show and put it on over the weekend.

In these weeks, Pertz said she created five different characters. When it was over, she said she was left with a bittersweet feeling.

“I’ve never felt so close to a group of people,” Pertz said, “but I didn’t miss the schedule of 8 a.m – 11 p.m. days. I spent the rest of my summer being a normal human being.”

Pertz said she was given so much information and taught so many wonderful things that she was almost overloaded, but she kept a journal where she wrote down everything that she was told during the program.

She said she thinks that over time she’ll be able to reflect on her experience in the program and put the pieces of information together when she’s in plays or when she has a career.

“I don’t think I’ll realize until long after this summer is over how rewarding this experience has been and how much I have learned,” Pertz said.

 

KHADIJA DJELLOULI

[email protected]