Steve Epp ’80 and The Moving Company collaborate with students to celebrate opening of new theatre

Posted on February 17th, 2020 by

Steve Epp '80 works with students during a recent rehearsal. Photo Credit: Dominique Serrand

Big things are happening this week in the Department of Theatre and Dance at Gustavus Adolphus College as the first public show opens in the College’s new state-of-the-art Laboratory Theatre. You’re Invited! A new creation by The Moving Company will run February 20-23.

For January interim, students in the Intensive Performance Lab class not only spent the month rehearsing and preparing a production, they also wrote it. Guiding the students in the process was professional actor and alum Steve Epp ’80 and his  theatre group, The Moving Company. Epp and his team took up residency on campus for six weeks, collaborating with students to devise (create) an original work to celebrate the opening of the new space.

Each day during January term students worked with Epp, Dominique Serrand, and Nathan Keepers for several hours to write, workshop, and rehearse the new piece. Epp says that the collaboration with students at Gustavus felt oddly familiar, despite the fact that it has been years since he was in a production on campus. He notes the willingness of students to support each other and their openness to the creation process. “I think at our best we [The Moving Company] help students find how to be playful and inventive, to have a voice in the process and feel ownership of what is created,” he says.

Senior theatre honors major Hannah Mahr was one of those students. Mahr says that the experience working so closely with directors from a professional theatre company has drawn more creativity and playfulness from the students, while also encouraging them to focus closely on the extreme level of detail that physical theatre requires. “Much of the beauty in physical theatre work comes from its minutiae,” Mahr says. “If you take the time to study and polish every element in a scene, like the rhythm, gestures, text, and so on, the material will become more impactful. This sort of work is demanding, but it’s worth it.”

The collaboration between these professional actors and students has been years in the making, says Department of Theatre and Dance co-chair Henry MacCarthy. When the department first learned that part of the Nobel Hall construction and renovation would include a new black box theatre, they knew this was a unique opportunity to do something groundbreaking and innovative with students. Hiring Epp and his team seemed to be a natural fit.

“They are a prestigious theatre company that creates and devises experimental work, and that is one of the ways we will use this new space,” MacCarthy says. The laboratory theatre provides essentially a blank slate where students’ imagination is the limit on what can be created for both theatre and dance.

With powerful LED lighting, flexible audience seating for any type of performance, a new bulk dye vat for costumes, and new dressing rooms, the laboratory theatre creates several new educational spaces for the technical theatre program as well.  The large new control room that houses the light and sound controls as gives technical theatre faculty the opportunity to teach an entire class in the booth, something that was impossible in their old facilities.

With just under 150 seats available for each of the three performances (February 20-21 at 8 p.m. and February 23 at 2 p.m.), tickets will likely sell quickly. The Saturday evening performance on February 22 will be a special event by invitation only. Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased online at gustavustickets.com or by calling 507-933-7590.

 

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