The Drama Labs

Anyone who has ever been in George Washington Hall on a Friday evening is all too familiar with the loud bustle of students waiting at the theatre classroom door. At the end of a long, exhausting week, DramaLabs transform the dreary atmosphere into one of cheerful anticipation, as a serpentine line of students winds past the vending machines and trickles into the GW lobby. The Theatre Classroom did not always host mass audiences. When Mark Efinger, Instructor of Theatre and Dance, first arrived at Phillips Academy in 1993, he recalled that the Theatre Classroom sat woefully empty whenever a class was not in session. It was not until early 2000 that the theatre department finally put the space to good use, by introducing a completely reformed, student-directed theatre program, known as the DramaLabs. Before DramaLabs were created, only a couple of full-length, student-directed productions were performed in Steinbach Theatre per term. “The shows were really sketchy. There was not enough time or a big enough budget to do an adequate job and fully realize a production,” Efinger said. DramaLabs were intended to be more simplistic—in a bare-bone, black-box style. Efinger said that the weekly productions would be shorter, in order to let students work on them for three weeks rather than six to seven. The mini-productions were immediate hits. DramaLabs are especially unique because students direct, act in and manage the entire production. “It is important to [recognize] how much the theatre department at Andover can offer students. Very few high schools have the resources… that we have available to us. Moreover, very few theatre departments would allow students the sort of independence that Andover does,” wrote Mike Kaluzny ’09, a DramaLab Producer, in an email to The Phillipian. According to Efinger, the DramaLabs’ are much more popular than their predecessors. Previously, a mere three or four students a term wanted to participate in student-directed shows. Now, two to three shows run per week, and the theatre department is forced to turn down applications due to a shortage of slots. Needless to say, they’re also outgrowing the Theatre Classroom. Friday evenings, there are students who can’t get in the door—nearly 140 audience members total every week. Efinger arrived in 1993 to find renovated theatre facilities, including Steinbach and the Theatre Classrooms. When he started working, his job was to decide which programs would be held in those venues. He said, “Back in the ’70’s, there used to be two levels of theatre: faculty-directed productions on Tang Theatre, which was the only stage, and full-length, student-directed shows down in the space which is now prop storage. “It was an incredible little fire-trap down there.” After the DramaLabs’ introduction and initial development, the role of DramaLab Producer, the shows’ integral organizer, was also created. Kaluzny and fellow producers, Jean Fang ’09 and Eli Grober ’09, have their work cut out for them. Grober attempted to list their responsibilities in one breath: “As producers, we are in charge of putting out directing applications, choosing directors, running auditions, attending rehearsals, helping to set up and run each Friday night performance, organizing workshops, getting the school involved in the Eight Schools Theater Festival, putting out pertinent information regarding acting, directing, [and] stage managing, organizing the 24-Hour Plays, helping to organize Grasshopper Night, being available to help and answer questions students might have and meeting once a week to review all of this.” In addition to their DramaLab responsibilities, producers must supervise the 24-Hour Plays and the Eight School Theatre Conference—two more recent additions to the DramaLab lineup. Students wrote, directed and performed the third round of yearly 24-Hour Plays this January, and the DramaLab Producers and Efinger are already meeting about the second annual Eight School Theatre Conference, which will be held at Phillips Exeter this spring. Efinger said, “[Fang, Grober and Kaluzny] have made the theatre program really accessible to interested students.” But there is another important discussion on Kaluzny, Fang and Grober’s agenda, one that the producers approach with mixed emotions. The time has come for Fang, Grober and Kaluzny to discuss their replacements—the 2010 DramaLab Producers. “The outgoing producers are in charge. They write up the application,” explained Efinger. “We make decisions about who would be the best team to pick up the mantel and carry on with it. It’s more of a question of ‘Who do you need?’ rather than ‘Who is the best?’ We need a real team to do technical stuff, logistical work and address personal problems that need to be arbitrated and mediated.” As the producers ready to take their final bows, they will be looking for aspiring producers to step into the spotlight. So brush up on your Shakespeare, Uppers. You certainly have a tough “act” to follow.