Table of Contents
Send a Letter
Magazine Staff
Back Issues:
UofC Magazine
Editors's Notes
Chicago Journal
Class News
Books by Alumni
For the Record
Center Stage
Alumni Gateway
UofC Homepage

Play practice

Nine College students and one recent alumnus contributed more than acting skills to Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre’s fall production of The Berlin Circle.

The U of C participants performed as members of the play’s ensemble, and some had minor speaking roles. They also acted as Brechtian devices—a continual presence on stage—watching the drama unfold. Written by Charles Mee, the play is a contemporary retelling of the Chinese myth of the chalk circle—similar to the Christian story of King Solomon—set in Germany at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The chance for stardom was made possible through a theater practicum—a class focused on the practice of acting—offered 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.

Landau chose to cast students in the hope they would contribute vibrancy and wide intellectual interests—actors who weren’t 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 Steppenwolf’s 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.

“It was exhausting, and exciting,” recalls English concentrator Elizabeth Birnkrant, ’00. “Sometimes you felt like doing it, and sometimes you didn’t. 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.

Table of Contents | Send a Letter | Staff | Back to the UofC Magazine