Most UM students have heard of the shows at the Jerry Herman Ring Theatre, the Frost School and CaneStage Company (formerly QuantUM Entertainment). But many would be shocked to learn that there’s an under-the-radar performance space hidden in the freshman dorms.
The Hecht Studio Theater, housed in the theatre department on the second floor, is a little-known haven for cutting-edge, thought-provoking shows.
Currently playing in the Studio is a production of “See What I Wanna See,” a 2005 musical written by Michael John LaChiusa. The show is based on three stories by Japanese author Ryūnosuke Akutagawa and features students in UM’s B.F.A. Musical Theatre program.
“It is very abstract, very complicated,” said Jayne Ng, a member of the cast. “It’s all about the truth and perspective.”
Ng portrays Kesa, a woman plotting to kill her husband in the first portion of the musical, which is set in medieval Japan. The second story jumps forward dramatically in time to a murder trial in the 1950s. Finally, the third tale follows a priest grappling with his faith in the aftermath of Sept. 11. The stories are tied together by theme, but do not share characters.
Performing in the Studio Theatre comes with benefits for the actors. With only about 40 seats and minimal set and lighting elements, it allows for very intimate productions, as the actors are only a few feet away from the audience. It also creates a unique rehearsal environment.
“Normally, shows have a ‘rehearsal space’ that is not their theatre,” explained junior Rachel Bonet, who plays Aunt. “Then they move into the theatre closer towards the opening of the show. We have the advantage of living in our space from the start. This makes us very comfortable with our space.”
However, there are extra challenges inherent in the space as well. The Studio Theatre is too small to make the use of microphones practical, so actors need to project, without producing too much sound for such a compact space.
“Because it is so small, we all have to pay extra attention to volume,” said sophomore Branden Holzer, who plays the thief.
The Studio Theatre is often a home for works that push theatrical boundaries. “See What I Wanna See” is known for its difficult musical score, as was last year’s “The Adding Machine.”
“String of Pearls,” a production last fall, was almost entirely made up of characters talking directly to the audience. The theatre’s shows range from historical bodice-rippers (“Les Liaisons Dangereuses”) to absurdist comedy (“Dead Man’s Cell Phone”) to poetic realism (“Burn This”). It even hosted a workshop production of a new musical based on Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five” in 2013.
Next up in the Studio this November is a similarly bold choice: a play that doesn’t yet have a script. The cast will work together to create the show through collaboration and improv exercises, in a style known as devised theatre.
If You Go
What: “See What I Wanna See”
Where: Hecht Studio Theatre (on the second floor of Hecht in the theatre department)
When: Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m, Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Price: Free. Sign up for a seat on the Theatre Department Callboard.
Feature image courtesy http://www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk