Eastern Theatre Program Honored at Kennedy Center Theatre Festival

“Thread City” took the stage in the fall 2017 semester.

Written by Jolene Potter

WILLIMANTIC, CT (02/08/2018) A number of creators and performers behind Eastern Connecticut State University’s recent theatre productions were awarded at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF) Region 1. Held from Jan. 30 to Feb. 4 at Western Connecticut State University, the annual festival was attended by more than 1,000 students and faculty from colleges across the Northeast.

Eastern’s Performing Arts Department’s fall 2017 production “Thread City” was widely praised, receiving three merit awards. Ted Clement, the KCACTF regional festival co-chair, said that “Thread City” was the most visually spectacular and moving production of the many college productions throughout New England and New York he has seen this year.

Directed by theatre professors Alycia Bright-Holland and Kristen Morgan, “Thread City” explored the ever-relevant topic of immigration with a dialogue-free play that blended choreographed movement, visual projections and folky-electronic soundscapes to convey a heartfelt and historically representative tale of immigration in America. “Thread City” is the popular name of Eastern’s hometown of Willimantic, CT, which is known for its rich history as the largest thread-manufacturing city in the United States in its heyday.

The creative team of “Thread City” included several students and adjunct faculty members Travis Houldcroft and Jen Rock, who received merit awards in the categories of Conceptual Collaboration, Excellence in Original Music Composition and Exceptional Choreography. Theatre Professor Anya Sokolovskaya was also acknowledged for her costume design for “Thread City.” “It was Anya’s costumes that so beautifully placed our actors in time and grounded our often-surreal production into a plausible reality,” said Chase Rozelle, professor of theatre.

“Two Gentlemen of Verona” took the stage in the spring 2017 semester.

Also achieving success at KCACTF was Eastern Professor David Pellegrini, whose spring 2017 production of “Two Gentlemen of Verona” received three awards. The production was a musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s early comedy about young people exploring love, friendship and the temptations of city life.

Students took the lead on many design and management aspects of the production, including set, lighting and costume design and as a result three Eastern students were honored for their contributions to the production. Eastern student Troi Barnham received a merit award for her coordination and staging of the fashion show scene, student Hannah Garrahy received a merit award for her work regarding the production’s Live Feed Videography and commercial and student Sinque Tavares received a merit award for his work as Assistant Choreographer and Lead Dancer.

Among the Eastern students recognized at the festival was Kerri McColgan, who won a scholarship to attend the Stage Craft Institute of Las Vegas for her hand-operated alligator winch, which was used in “Thread City.”

Additionally, a number of Eastern students were also awarded scholarships, served as technical interns for the festival and competed in the festival’s Technical Olympics. Eastern student Kerri McColgan won a one-week scholarship to attend the Stage Craft Institute of Las Vegas for her hand operated alligator winch in “Thread City.” McColgan made a winch suitable for use in the movement of rolling stage scenery components. The device allows the frames to open similarly to how an alligator’s mouth opens. “Thread City” Stage Manger Katerina Mazzacaine also received a $1,200 scholarship for her presentation on her experiences in “Thread City” as well as for her service in the festival’s Stage Management Fellowship program.

“We’ve all had very rewarding experiences here. Faculty and students alike have found profound opportunity and fellowship,” said Rozelle. “I can’t truly describe what it’s like to be a member of a 500 plus audience made up of only patrons who are also all theatre practitioners passionate about their work without the use of cliché: It’s thrilling, affirming and hugely inspirational.”

KCACTF recognizes and celebrates the finest and most diverse work produced in university and college theatre programs. Eastern Connecticut State University congratulates all Eastern students and faculty for their contributions to performing arts and for their tremendous success at this year’s KCACTF.

Eastern Music Program to Host 4 February Concerts

Eastern Makes “College Consensus” List of Top Colleges in Connecticut

Written by Ed Osborn

WILLIMANTIC, CT (01/26/2018) College Consensus, a unique new college review aggregator, has recognized Eastern Connecticut State University in its ranking of “Best Colleges in Connecticut for 2017-18.” Eastern was ranked in the top 10 schools in Connecticut, and was one of only two public institutions chosen, the University of Connecticut being the other.

To identify the Best Colleges in Connecticut for 2017-18, College Consensus averaged the latest results from the most respected college ranking systems, including U.S. News and World Report among others, along with thousands of student review scores, to produce a unique rating for each school. Read about the organization’s methodology at https://www.collegeconsensus.com/about.

“Congratulations on making the list of Best Colleges in Connecticut for 2017-18,” said Carrie Sealey-Morris, managing editor of College Consensus. “Your inclusion in our ranking shows that your school has been recognized for excellence by both publishers on the outside and students and alumni on the inside.”

Part of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System, Eastern began its life in 1889 as a public normal school. Today the University is recognized as one of top 25 public universities in the North Region by U.S. News & World Report, and has been named one of the nation’s Green Colleges eight years in a row by the Princeton Review.

Eastern is Connecticut’s public liberal arts college, with a student body of 5,300 students; more than 90 percent of Eastern’s students are from Connecticut. Eastern’s size gives its students an uncommon degree of individualized attention, aided by a 15:1 student/faculty ratio and a strong commitment to student success.

In addition to a strong liberal art foundation, Eastern has many opportunities for students to engage in practical, hands-on learning, ranging from internships to study abroad, community service and undergraduate research. For instance, Eastern has sent more student researchers to the competitive National Conference on Undergraduate Research in the past four years than all the other public universities in Connecticut combined. In 2018, 41 of the 44 students from Connecticut who will present their research at the conference in April are from Eastern.

With its history, Eastern is also one of Connecticut’s foremost educators of teachers, and its professional studies and continuing education programs have made it an important institution for Connecticut’s working adults.

To see Eastern’s College Consensus profile, visit https://www.collegeconsensus.com/school/eastern-connecticut-state-university.

‘Amahl, Night Visitors’ Visit Eastern

Amahl and the Night Visitors Cast

Amahl and the Night Visitors Cast

Written by Jolene Potter

A talented cast of Eastern Connecticut State University students, alumni, faculty and staff recently performed in “Amahl and the Night Visitors” on Dec. 2 to celebrate the holiday season. Composed by Gian Carlo Menotti, the opera tells the story of the Magi from the point of view of a young disabled boy named Amahl and his widowed mother.

Among the cast was Samantha Price ’19 of Cheshire. Price majors in Visual Arts and English.

The production was directed by Emily Riggs, professor of music and voice, and Pete Perreira.

The first opera ever commissioned for television, “Amahl and the Night Visitors” made its world premiere on Christmas Eve 1951 on NBC. Menotti drew heavily from his childhood in Italy when composing the production, stating in an interview, “This is an opera for children because it tries to recapture my own childhood. You see… when I was a child I lived in Italy, and in Italy we have no Santa Claus… Our gifts were brought to us by the Three Kings, instead.”

Performed in Eastern’s state-of-the-art Fine Arts Instructional Center Concert Hall, the production captured the wonder of the hoiday seasons and entertained Eastern students, faculty, staff and community members.

Amahl, a poor, disabled boy from just outside of Bethlehem sees a large bright star in the sky one night and tells his mother. However, as he is known for his vivid imagination and tall tales, Amahl’s mother dismissed his claims.That night, three kinds stop to rest in their home for the night, as they have traveled a long way following the star that Amahl saw in the sky. The three kings show Amahl the jewels and gifts they are bringing to the new born king and Amahl goes to sleep for the night. Poverty-stricken and hoping to improve Amahl’s quality of life, Amahl’s mother tries to steal some of the valuables brought by the three kings but is caught. Despite the kings generous offer for her to keep the gold, she returns it after hearing about the child that will need nothing but love to rule his kingdom. Amahl, hoping to offer an additional gift to the child, offers his most prized possession, his crutch. However, he finds shortly after offering his crutch that he is able to walk.

Eastern Presents ‘Little Women’

"Little Women" occurred in the smaller venue of the studio theatre.

“Little Women” occurred in the smaller venue of the studio theatre.

Written by Michael Rouleau

The theatre program at Eastern Connecticut State University presented the holiday classic “Little Women” from Nov. 28-Dec. 3. The play took place in the intimate venue of Eastern’s DelMonte Bernstein Studio Theatre, with a special emphasis on being “sensory-friendly” for audience members with spectrum disorders.

Written by novelist Louisa May Alcott in the 1860s and adapted by playwright Marisha Chamberlain, “Little Women” follows four sisters with a father who is off to war during the Christmas season. The March girls face a number of challenges on their New England home front: Jo desperately wants to fill the void left by the man of the house; Beth struggles with the shyness that keeps her close to home; a secret admirer watches Meg from afar; and no force on earth will keep Amy from her destiny.

“Generations of ‘little women’ have found themselves relating to each of the four girls,” said Molly Bagley ’20, who played Beth and served as the play’s dramaturge. She explained that the play is loosely based on Alcott’s upbringing. “We find solace in their progress and struggles, and the shortcomings they must overcome in order to achieve their dreams.”

Beth, performed by Molly Bagley '20 of Glastonbury

Beth, performed by Molly Bagley ’20 of Glastonbury

Unlike most Main Stage productions at Eastern, which take place in the Proscenium Theatre, “Little Women” occurred in the smaller venue of the studio theatre. “As a family-driven script, we wanted audiences to feel embraced by the warmth of the March home, and the studio theatre is more conducive to that,” said the play’s director and Theatre Professor J.J. Cobb, reflecting on the venue with seating immediately adjacent to the stage.

“The biggest challenge was watching out for those few audience members who rested their feet on the set,” said Matthew Bessette ’19, who played Brooke (Meg’s suitor), adding that the borders of the set were less than a foot from the audience at certain points.

“An opportunity for this style of theatre was learning to adapt one’s acting style to match the space,” he added. “Because the seats are so much closer, performing becomes less about conveying emotion to someone a hundred feet away and more about toning down that emotion so that it’s more realistic when seen nearby. In other words, the dangers of overacting are much more present in such a space.”

Mr. Laurence, performed by Edwards Lorsin '21 of Hamden, and Aunt March, performed by Ashlyn O'Boyle '21 of Killingworth

Mr. Laurence, performed by Edwards Lorsin ’21 of Hamden, and Aunt March, performed by Ashlyn O’Boyle ’21 of Killingworth

For Edwards Lorsin ’21, who played Mr. Laurence (elderly, protective neighbor of the Marches), being so close to audience members and seeing their reactions felt uncomfortable at first, but the seating arrangement brought another advantage. “Positioning our bodies was easier,” he explained. “We weren’t concerned about not facing the audience correctly because they were surrounding us. It allowed for a more three-dimensional space for the action to take place in. What happens on a more traditional stage appears to be more ‘flat’; actors often have to position their bodies to face the audience.”

Eastern’s rendition of “Little Women” was meant to be accessible to audience members with spectrum disorders – any mental condition that occurs on a “spectrum” and manifests at different degrees of severity. “Often people with these conditions are unable to attend live theatre,” explained Cobb, adding that the production’s sensory-friendly components included adjustments to the lighting, sound and seating arrangements.

While the actors didn’t necessarily change their acting approach for the sensory-friendly performance, which occurred on Dec. 2, Lorsin said: “I feel that having a show that is sensory-friendly is a good way to promote inclusivity and accessibility for audiences that wouldn’t otherwise attend performances on this campus.” This is important, concluded Bessette, “especially for a play that preaches acceptance and family values.”

‘Thread City’ Takes the Stage

A Tale of Immigrants and Community Love

 

Written by Michael Rouleau

The ever-relevant topic of immigration was on dramatic display from Oct. 11-15 when Eastern Connecticut State University premiered “Thread City,” a unique performance that “told” stories of the immigrants who came to Willimantic to work in its historic thread mills. The dialogue-free play blended choreographed movement, visual projections and folky-electronic soundscapes to convey a heartfelt and historically representative tale of immigration in America.

In their 19th- and 20th-century heyday, Willimantic’s thread mills were among the largest producers of textiles in the world. They were major employers in northeastern Connecticut, drawing workers from New England and beyond. Willimantic became a hotbed of immigration. According to U.S. Census data, 29 percent of Windham residents were foreign born in 1910, with people from 26 different nations living in town.

“Thread City” opens with a stage that represents many different countries and eras. Multiple scenes that happen simultaneously fade in and out of action as a spotlight moves about the stage. As the setting shifts to a turbulent transcontinental boat ride, the performance space eventually comes to represent Willimantic exclusively – including its homes and the hazardous work environment of the mills.

Due to the multicultural theme of “Thread City,” it was important to the creators to devise a play that would transcend language. Using “moment work” – a theatrical technique in which individual moments are dissected and explored – actors conveyed the stories of immigrants without the use of words.

Several years of research and preparation went into “Thread City,” which involved visiting historical sites, researching testimonies of past residents and interviewing current Willimantic residents. Theatre Professors Kristen Morgan and Alycia Bright-Holland, co-creators of the production, traveled to Quebec and Puerto Rico – the origins of two of the largest ethnic groups to migrate to Willimantic – and led a class trip Ellis Island in New York City.

“Wandering through the beautifully curated exhibits at the Ellis Island museum inspired our students to create all sorts of new ‘moments’ when we returned to campus,” wrote Morgan and Bright-Holland, who led moment-work workshops and co-taught two upper-level theatre courses to prepare for “Thread City.”

Intimate scenes of the immigrant experience – from leaving heartbroken family members, to being inspected by immigration officers who bark orders in an unfamiliar tongue, to being reunited with family in their new home – were conveyed with precise gestures and emotion-filled facial expressions.

“The method of storytelling in ‘Thread City’ was an attempt at universal communication,” said student Matt Bessette ’19, the play’s dramaturge. “Its characters were direct portrayals of historical individuals of various backgrounds and time periods. The overall spectacle demonstrates the thematic elements of individuality and unity – the idea of being alone and yet, at the same time, together.”

 

While “Thread City” would not fall under the genre of “musical,” rhythm and soundscapes play a star role in advancing the story. “This project drove me to immerse myself in the folk music of the major immigrant groups of Willimantic,” said composer Travis Houldcroft, media specialist at Eastern. “I strove to develop music that fit the show but was also exemplary of my own style.”

Houldcroft’s compositions, which he performed live, were played on banjo and guitar, as well as a laptop, which he used to loop sounds and manipulate effects. “This allowed me to integrate elements of string instrumentation as well as experimental electronic effects into the score. This aesthetics bleeds into the design of the soundscape.”

Adding to the overall musicality of “Thread City,” the cast of more than 20 characters – who seem to share the stage for the bulk of the show – added to the soundscapes with rhythmic knee slaps, toe taps and choreographed, dance-like movement.

To make “Thread City” a reality, Morgan and Bright-Holland partnered with members of the Eastern campus, as well as residents of several local communities. Among them, representatives of the Windham Textile and History Museum helped describe what life was like for mill workers more than a century ago. Several staff and faculty from Eastern gave insights into their own immigrant experiences, connected the production team with valuable community members, and shared knowledge of various historic migrations.

Beyond entertainment and message, “Thread City” perhaps had a nobler cause: to further unite the local community. “With the privilege of having a beautiful building dedicated to the arts,” wrote Morgan and Bright-Holland, in reference to Eastern’s new Fine Arts Instructional Center, “comes the responsibility of serving the community with that space.

“We discussed the idea of a performance created specifically for Willimantic – not something simply ‘for’ the community, but something that would engage residents so that they might see themselves truly reflected and represented on stage.

“Today more than ever, we need that physical and emotional connection to one another,” they concluded. “Theatre has the power to transform, to heal, to activate and ultimately to create social and political change.”

 

‘The Life of Dawson Radlaw’ at Eastern

pheonix flyer

Written by Jordan Corey

The “Phoenix New Play Series” is an annual theatre program at Eastern Connecticut State University that takes a student-written work and adapts it into a student-directed, minimalist play. On Oct. 21, McKenzie Fayne’s “The Life of Dawson Radlaw” will be brought to life. The free production will show at 7:30 p.m. in the Del Monte Studio Theatre of the Fine Arts Instructional Center.

“Seeing my story taken from page to stage is a surreal and humbling feeling,” said Fayne ’18, who majors in communication and resides in Chaplin. The play will be brought to fruition by student director Onyae Randall ’19, who majors in theatre and resides in Milford, and her cast of nine student actors.

“I learned about ‘Phoenix’ my freshman year when I had the opportunity to act in a ‘Phoenix’ production,” Randall said. “That’s part of what sparked my interest in directing.” She noted that having Fayne stand in on some rehearsals brought “great feedback” and provided a unique opportunity for creative conversation. “There is a certain beauty to the amalgamation of this learning process for everyone. I think that is really what education is about.”

According to Fayne, “The Life of Dawson Radlaw” spotlights true love, loss and family as the audience follows the main character Dawson through scenes of his life at different points in time. “My hope is that the audience can feel the pain, as well as joy, that Dawson feels in each particular moment. Every experience, whether good or bad, shapes you into the person you are presently and that is something I also hope is taken away from this story.”

‘Thread City’ at Eastern Oct. 11-15

Written by Michael Rouleau

thread_city_flyer“Thread City,” the first Main Stage theatre production of the fall semester at Eastern Connecticut State University, will show from Oct. 11-15. The dialogue-free performance will convey – through actors’ movements – the stories of immigrants who came to Willimantic to work in its historic thread mills. All showings will occur in the Proscenium Theatre of the Fine Arts Instructional Center.

In their heyday, Willimantic’s thread mills were among the largest producers of textiles in the world. They were major employers in northeastern Connecticut, drawing workers from New England and beyond. Because of their economic dominance, Willimantic was an outlying hotbed of immigration in comparison to the surrounding area. More than a dozen languages were reportedly spoken in the mills in 19th and 20th centuries.

Due to the multicultural theme of “Thread City,” it was important to the creators to devise a play that would transcend language. Using “moment work” – a theatrical technique in which individual moments are dissected and explored – actors convey the stories of immigrants without the use of words. But the play is not silent, as soundscapes, music and multimedia projections accompany the actors.

Nearly three years of preparation went into “Thread City,” which involved visiting historical sites, researching testimonies of past residents and interviewing current Willimantic residents. The production was co-created by Theatre Professors Kristen Morgan and Alycia Bright Holland in collaboration with many members of the Eastern and Windham communities.

“We hope that the community will feel empowered by seeing their personal narrative celebrated,” said Morgan and Bright-Holland. “The message at the heart of the play is that immigrants are part of the bedrock of our community.

“This is different from other productions in that it is a devised work, which means that is not scripted, but conceived by an ensemble of collaborators,” they continued. “It’s also a community-based production, in that it was not just created for, but with the community.”

“Thread City” will be shown in the Proscenium Theatre of the Fine Arts Instructional Center at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday (Oct. 11), Friday (Oct. 13) and Saturday (Oct. 14); at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday (Oct. 12); at 11 a.m. Friday (Oct.13) and 4 p.m. Sunday (Oct. 15). For reservations, email theatreboxoffice@easternct.edu or call (860) 465-5123. To purchase tickets online, visit http://easternct.showare.com/threadcity/.

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About Eastern Connecticut State University

Eastern is the state of Connecticut’s public liberal arts university, serving more than 5,400 students annually at its Willimantic campus and satellite locations. In addition to attracting students from 163 of Connecticut’s 169 towns, Eastern also draws students from 20 other states and 29 other countries. A residential campus offering 39 majors and 65 minors, Eastern offers students a strong liberal art foundation grounded in an array of applied learning opportunities. Eastern has been awarded “Green Campus” status by the Princeton Review seven years in a row. For more information, visit.

It is the policy of Eastern Connecticut State University to ensure equal access to its events. If you are an individual with a disability and will need accommodations for this event, please contact the Office of University Relations at (860) 465-5735.

Eastern Breaks Into List of Top 25 Public Regional Universities

Written by Ed Osborn

eastern_front_entranceFor the first time, Eastern Connecticut State University made the list of the top 25 regional public universities in the North in this year’s U.S. News and World Report’s 2018 edition of “Best Colleges.” Eastern was the highest ranked university among the four Connecticut state universities. The annual rankings were released on Sept. 12.

•Theatre students perform Cervantes' "Pedro, The Great Pretender," as the first production in the Proscenium Theatre of Eastern's new Fine Arts Instructional Center

• Theatre students perform Cervantes’ “Pedro, The Great Pretender,” as the first production in the Proscenium Theatre of Eastern’s new Fine Arts Instructional Center

Regional universities such as Eastern are ranked on the basis of 16 criteria that include peer assessment, graduation and retention rates, faculty resources, admissions selectivity, financial resources and alumni giving. The North Region includes colleges and universities from New England, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland.

•Biology major Elizabeth DelBuono '17 is in the graduate program in Genetic Counseling at Sarah Lawrence College.

• Biology major Elizabeth DelBuono ’17 is in the graduate program in Genetic Counseling at Sarah Lawrence College.

“I am gratified to see Eastern ranked in the top 25 public institutions in the North in this year’s U.S. News and World Report’s 2018 Best Colleges report,” said Eastern President Elsa Nunez. “Our commitment to high standards, our focus on providing students with personal attention, and the introduction of new academic programs have resulted in our favorable ranking. Students and their families turn to the Best Colleges rankings to help decide where to attend college.  These newest rankings reaffirm that Eastern is providing a relevant and high quality education on our beautiful residential campus.”

This year’s U.S. News and World Report rankings included reviews of 1,389 schools nationwide and are available at www.usnews.com/colleges. They will also be published in the Best Colleges 2017 Guidebook, published by U.S. News & World Report and available on newsstands on Oct. 10.

For the past 33 years, the U.S. News and World Report rankings, which group colleges based on categories created by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, have grown to be the most comprehensive research tool for students and parents considering higher education opportunities.

2 Students Awarded Eastern Summer Fellowships

Written by Michael Rouleau

Eastern students Jolene Potter ’18 and Julie Leitao ’18 participated in Undergraduate Research/Creative Activity Fellowships this summer. Potter, a psychology major, prepared her research study, “Awareness and Understanding of Rape Culture among College Students,” for publication. Leitao, a theatre and early childhood education double major, worked to devise the script and choreography for the upcoming Eastern theatre production “Thread City.”

Jolene Potter '18

Jolene Potter ’18

Potter began her research in fall 2016, and aspired to submit her 9,000-word manuscript to an undergraduate research journal at the conclusion of the summer fellowship.

“Through in-depth interviews with Eastern students, my research examines how students define, perceive and reproduce notions about rape culture,” said Potter. “The study explores student acceptance of rape myths, their victim-blaming behavior and their tendency to defend the perpetrator. I also assess feelings regarding campus safety, beliefs regarding the necessity and efficacy of campus programs regarding sexual assault, and awareness of services for victims of sexual assault.”

Potter reports that her findings suggest “an association between awareness and understanding of rape culture and decreased rape myth acceptance and victim-blaming behavior, increased concerns pertaining to campus safety, and increased awareness of services offered to victims of sexual assault.”

Julia Leitao '18

Julia Leitao ’18

Leitao worked on the upcoming theatre production “Thread City,” which will be performed at Eastern Oct. 11-15. The show aims to tell the story of the immigrants who came to Willimantic to work in its historic thread mills. During one of Leitao’s spring semester classes, she interviewed local residents, learned about theatre companies and completed “moment work”—a theatrical technique in which individual moments are dissected and explored.

“We delved deeper into the research and used it to create the characters, storyline and movement pieces of the show,” said Leitao. “‘Thread City’ will focus on movement and sound rather than being a text-heavy performance.

“Devising a piece of theatre that tells the story through the body is something I am very excited to be a part of,” added Leitao. “Our characters and movements will represent immigrants from various locations who have traveled to a new, strange world and are adapting to a new life.”

Eastern’s Summer Research/Creative Activity Fellowship program is administered by the Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Advisory Council. Students from all majors can apply for the competitive fellowship. Participants receive a $1,000 stipend and $250 for travel.