students and one recent alumnus contributed more than acting skills
to Chicagos Steppenwolf Theatres fall production of
The Berlin Circle.
The U of C
participants performed as members of the plays ensemble, and
some had minor speaking roles. They also acted as Brechtian devicesa
continual presence on stagewatching the drama unfold. Written
by Charles Mee, the play is a contemporary retelling of the Chinese
myth of the chalk circlesimilar to the Christian story of
King Solomonset in Germany at the time of the fall of the
for stardom was made possible through a theater practicuma
class focused on the practice of actingoffered by the College
in partnership with Steppenwolf. Auditions required the performance
of three small bits of dialogue and an 80s pop song for director
Tina Landau and casting director Phyllis Schuringa.
to cast students in the hope they would contribute vibrancy and
wide intellectual interestsactors who werent just actors,
but actors who were students of art, history, literature, and other
subjects. Even she was surprised by the payoff: Two history concentrators,
Lucinda Bingham, 99, and Susannah Gellert, 99, knew
German and helped with pronunciation, teaching the cast German beer
songs; English concentrator Saket Soni, 00, brought up the
relevance of certain Hindu myths; and Walker Lambert, 01,
learned to play the accordion.
All of the
student participants began a month of six-day-a-week rehearsals
at the end of August. They took a special actor-training workshop;
spoke with Steppenwolfs dramaturg; and researched the fall
of the Berlin wall. Their efforts culminated in a six-week run of
eight shows a week, performed on top of a standard course load during
the autumn quarter.
exhausting, and exciting, recalls English concentrator Elizabeth
Birnkrant, 00. Sometimes you felt like doing it, and
sometimes you didnt. In both cases, you do it anyway.
Curt Columbus, director of University Theater and facilitator of
the practicum, hoped it would expose students to real life in the
theater. The goal of the class was for students to learn what
the nature of doing a show is, he explains. Students should
have walked away concluding, he says, that this is work.
Similar partnerships are planned for the future: This spring, U
of C students will create plays for high school audiences through
the Steppenwolf Arts Exchange.Q.J.