Arts: A guide to the on-campus scene

Recess: Comedy gets serious

“We don’t joke around,” said Kevin Mead, a member GW’s only improvisational comedy group, Recess.

Mead is a senior majoring in both English and creative writing and dramatic literature, and said he first auditioned for Recess his sophomore year. He had no previous experience with improv.

“If you’re serious in any way about acting, improv is an incredibly useful tool,” he said. The group often produces video and sketch comedy, where students write their own content and post it on the Internet. Mead and other members of Recess also manage the GW news and humor blog thecolonialist.com.

“(Recess) kind of changed in recent years to a more serious group,” Mead said, noting that several members including him aim to pursue comedy after graduation. Group members now participate in comedy festivals like the National College Comedy Festival at Skidmore College and the Dirty South Improv Festival in Chapel Hill, North Carolina – in addition to their monthly shows on campus at GW and off campus around D.C.

Mead said he wants to pursue comedy after college. “Ultimately the goal is to write and direct. The short-term goal is to go to New York and survive,” he said.

Students auditioning for the group must participate in a variety of improv games in front of current Recess members. Mead would only characterize callbacks as an “experience.”

The New York-native said student comedy groups on the whole are unfairly linked to stereotypes of unprofessionalism.

“College improv seems to have sort of a reputation,” Mead said. “It’s wrong.”

Forbidden Planet Productions: “Rocky Horror” and more

Forbidden Planet Productions’ reputation precedes them. Known on campus as the theater group that puts on “Rocky Horror Picture Show” annually, Forbidden Planet typically performs two musicals and one straight show a year – plus an annual musical cabaret.

“They’re like my family at school. That’s the nature of the business,” said Katherine Nelson, executive producer of the company, which started in 1994. Their cast sizes are typically about 25 members. The group is close, said Nelson, who shares her position as executive producer with her best friend Ben Pollack. The pair are the first ever co-executive producer team.

“We’re so welcoming and so inclusive,” Nelson said.

With noise complaints at the Lisner Downstage – a blackbox theater in the basement of the Lisner Auditorium – restricting stage usage for GW theater groups, Nelson looks forward to the completion of a new performance space on the University’s Mount Vernon campus, slated to open in the fall of 2010. The space will seat an audience of about 100.

“We were hit the hardest because we make the most noise,” said Nelson, who will be a senior when the Vern space is scheduled for completion. She notes that the theater space issue has brought some unity across the University’s theater groups.

“It used to be that the theater people were really isolated,” she said, a sentiment echoed by the executive producer of Generic Theater Company Scout Siede.

Last season, Nelson performed with FPP in “Angels in America,” the two part play by Tony Kushner chronicling several characters and their struggles with homosexuality.

“It’s the show I’ve been in love with for a long time,” said Nelson, though she acknowledged the pressure of performing it, something, she said, “you have to do right.” Nelson said she believes FPP met the challenge.

“Every performance I’ve really been proud to be a part of,” she said.

Fourteenth Grade Players: “It’s just people who care about theater”

Executive producer Jessica O’Connell said The Fourteenth Grade Players are coming of age. The 200-member theater group, started in 2001, now performes everything from musicals to comedies to dramatic plays.

“I think this season showed everyone we’re growing,” O’Connell said. “Next year we have to keep that build.”

O’Connell was first cast in a show with the Fourteenth Grade Players in the spring of her freshman year.

“That’s when I really got sucked into it,” she said.

“Right now we’re trying to show everyone we’re not a one-trick pony,” said O’Connell, who acknowledged that despite companies young age, it performs eight shows a year.

“It’s just people who care about theater. You don’t have to eat, sleep and breathe it. A bunch of us did it in high school and a bunch of us didn’t,” she said. Last season, the group performed “Boeing Boeing,” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

O’Connell also noted the group’s emphasis on set design and lighting.

“We’re more tech heavy than the other groups,” she said. “We do pretty complicated sets.”

Additionally, O’Connell said the Fourteenth Grade Players are the only group to perform freshman “one acts” – one act plays performed only by freshman.

“By the time an audition was over I was hugging a new freshman,” said O’Connell, referring to her experiences encouraging incoming freshman to audition.

As with Generic and Forbidden Planet, the Fourteenth Grade Players will participate in Colonial Inauguration one acts to be performed on the second night of each CI from 11 p.m. to 12 a.m.

Generic Theatre Company: Something a little different

“We try to choose shows that are thought-provoking,” said Scout Seide, executive producer of Generic Theatre Company.

For example, last year Generic performed ten shows in total, ranging from controversial rock opera “Tommy” to “Almost, Maine,” an obscure vignette play opening with two lovers on a park bench, to “Crave,” which chronicles the experience of four characters, each identified only by a single letter.

“I think we’re very brave in the way we present that onstage,” she said of their work.

Generic sponsors the Freshman Showcase, which they hold auditions for during the second week of school. The showcase is directed by upperclassmen, while the entire cast is comprised of freshman. In addition to straight shows and this freshman showcase, Generic does one musical a year. Typically, Seide says, the company attracts theater majors.

Siede is double majoring in theater and political science, and spends the majority of her time outside of school working for the company. “As executive producer I basically made Generic my life outside of school. You can be as involved or not as you want,” she said, explaining that a typical week involves several hours of planning and promotion.

“Tech week is crazy, that week is always going to be crazy,” she said. Tech week is the general term for the week leading up to the first performance.

What’s in store for next season? Generic aims to launch a new assistant director program, allowing students to assist in the production of a show before fully committing to directing. Like Forbidden Planet’s Nelson, Siede spoke of a renewed unity among theater groups on campus due to the performance space issue each has dealt with this year.

“The crisis in the downstage has united us,” she said.

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