SB Indy Awards 2014

Six Westmont Faculty and Alum Awarded an Indy

The Santa Barbara Independent honored six people associated with Westmont at its annual theater awards May 19 at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. The 2014 Indy Theater Awards, celebrating the work of the entire Santa Barbara theater community, gave two awards to Westmont’s production of “Pirates of Penzance,” which has won three national awards from the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival.

Professor John Blondell earned awards for directing “Pirates of Penzance” and “Hamlet” for the Lit Moon Theatre Company. Adjunct professor Victoria Finlayson won for her choreography in “The Pirates of Penzance” and for her performances in Lit Moon’s “Hamlet” and “Untitled IV” for UCSB’s Launch Pad.

“This was a terrific night for Westmont-associated theater artists,” Blondell says “These six awards represent nearly a quarter of the total awards given at the ceremony. It speaks to the high regard that the greater Santa Barbara community has for the theatre arts program at Westmont, and for the artists that work in it and emerge from it. We are all honored and grateful to be recognized in this way.”

Mitchell Thomas, associate professor of theater, earned an award for directing Westmont’s “Electra.”

Miller James, adjunct professor and resident costume designer, was honored for his direction and costume design of “The Importance of Being Earnest” for the Circle Bar B Theatre.

Casey Caldwell, who graduated from Westmont in 2008, earned an Indy for his producing, directing, interviewing and writing of “Happy Few” for the Ratatat Theatre Company, where he is artistic director.

Marie Ponce, who graduated from Westmont in 2010, won for her performance in Boxtales Theatre Company’s “The Hero Twins — A Mayan Story.”


Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival Awards Westmont's "The Pirates of Penzance"

March 17, 2014
John BlondellDirector John Blondell
Westmont’s production of “The Pirates of Penzance” won three national awards from the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF). The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts recognized outstanding work from eight regional festivals held Jan. 7-March 1 across the United States.

“Pirates” earned Distinguished Production of a Musical, Distinguished Scenography for a Musical for Danila Korogodsky, and

Distinguished Director of a Musical for John Blondell, Westmont theater arts professor. Blondell has been invited to receive his award and participate in the 46th annual Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival in Washington, D.C., April 14-19. The Pirates of Penzance 2014

Blondell says the cast and crew are all delighted and honored to receive national recognition by the Kennedy Center. “I was blessed with a world-class team of co-creators and a multi-talented, effervescent group of performers and technicians,” he says. “The experience of making the show was unparalleled, and I am so pleased that the work of these fabulous young artists has met with such general acclaim. This is great news for our students, our departments and the college, and I am completely tickled at this surprising turn of events.”

“Pirates” was chosen to be performed at one of eight regional festivals Feb. 14 in the Los Angeles Theatre Center. It returned for two final shows in Westmont’s Porter Theatre Feb. 22-23.

In addition, Blondell directed “Bread,” written by California Institute of the Arts student Michael Yichao, which is a National Finalist of the KCACTF Ten-Minute Play Award.

Electra

January 31
Written by Sophecles, Adaptation by Nick Payne
Directed by Mitchell Thomas

Sophomore Christine Nathanson of Chula Vista stars in “Electra,” a masterpiece of dramatic literature, at an outdoor location northeast of Westmont’s Van Kampen Hall. Sophocles wrote the ancient tragedy, and acclaimed young British playwright Nick Payne has developed a new contemporary version of the text. Charles Donelan, of the Santa Barbara Independent wrote, " ElectraIn Mitchell Thomas’s mesmerizing new production of Nick Payne’s 21st century English adaptation, the drama’s ritual element is restored without sacrificing any of Sophocles’ psychological acuity. This is ancient Greek tragedy for the present moment, with scenes that are every bit as intense and saturated with inner life as those of a show written yesterday."

Mitchell says one of the challenges directing a Greek play is choosing its translation. “I had a wonderful time reading many excellent versions of the play and finally settled on a powerful, fast-paced adaptation by Payne,” he says. “It contains an urgency and fierce energy that, for me, honors the mythic origins of the material and yet will be accessible to contemporary audiences."
"Our production is rooted in an ancient/modern aesthetic and performance style that features choral movement and singing, an outdoor performance in a Mediterranean oak grove, and a fresh new version of the text that honors the original story but feels absolutely in the here and now. During rehearsals, it has been both intoxicating and humbling to have moments where I feel connected to a theatrical tradition that has endured for 2,500 years. I hope audiences will experience the same.”

Eyes Wide Open

November 18, 2013
Eyes Wide Open
Westmont’s fall dance concert, “Eyes Wide Open,” breaks from tradition to explore Porter Theatre’s black-box space Nov 21-23 at 8 p.m. Tickets, $10 for general admission; $7 for students, seniors and children, may be purchased at westmont.edu/boxoffice or by calling (805) 565-7140.
Susan Alexander, who co-directs the show with Christina Sanchez, says the performance will be full of surprises. “The faculty and student choreographers are going to bring this unusual space to life in a variety of different ways,” Alexander says. “With the audience seated on three sides, an intimacy will prevail as choreographers present challenging and delightful works ranging from pure movement to dance/theatre pieces.”
Alexander was professor of modern dance at the Paris Conservatory of Music and Dance from 1989-2008 and for the Paris Opera Ballet Company from 1985-2008. A graduate of UC Santa Barbara, Alexander earned a master’s degree in dance at Mills College.
Sanchez, who performs with the Santa Barbara Dance Theatre based at UCSB, has danced and toured throughout Europe, South America and the U.S. with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. She has also performed with Ballet Hispanico of New York, Complexions Contemporary Ballet and Buglisi Foreman Dance.
Both Alexander and Sanchez have been teaching at Westmont since 2011.


Pirates of Penzance

October 21, 2013

Pirates of Penzance Artistic dynamos John Blondell, Westmont professor of theater arts, and Michael Shasberger, Adams professor of music and worship, have combined forces, collaborating on the production of a comic operetta. About 30 student-actors/musicians will perform “Pirates of Penzance,” written by W.S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan, Oct. 17-19, 23, and 26-27 at 7 p.m. General admission is $15; $10 for students, children and seniors. Tickets may be purchased online at westmont.edu/boxoffice or by calling (805) 565-7140.
Blondell, who directs the show, says it has been a joy collaborating with Shasberger, student conductor Andrew Combs, Danila Korogodsky (scenography) and Victoria Finlayson (choreography). He says he was attracted to “Pirates” for several reasons.
“I had never done a comic operetta,” he says, “so the prospect seemed new and fresh and also rather scary. I enjoy breathing fresh life into plays that we think we know. I wanted to make something fresh and vibrant, and that was satisfying on dramatic, theatrical and musical levels.”
For a moment, Blondell and Shasberger considered a big cast, full orchestra and larger venue. “I was interested in what it meant to play the play in Porter Theatre — in the intimate environment where action and music are very close to the audience. The entire approach to the show, then, led me to make decisions based on what it meant to do a chamber version of the show.
“I think the show is going to be terrifically performed, vibrantly sung, beautifully acted and will have scenery, costumes and choreography that are both appropriate to the material and also very modern. I have high hopes for this show — I am constantly and consistently inspired by our students and collaborators. In some ways, I don’t want it to open, because that will mean that my work with it is over.”


Fringe Festival 2013

April 20, 2013
Fringe 13

More than 70 Westmont students will be acting and dancing in 18 different pieces during six nightly performances of “Fringe 2013: On the Verge” April 11-13 and 18-20 from 7-10:30 p.m

Shawnee Witt and Jackie Dressler, who performed in "Platinum Circle," star in "Marisol" during the first weekend of the Fringe
“This collaboration between advanced directing students and M.F.A. playwrights was not only exhilarating during the 48-hour writing process initiated by professor John Blondell, but it has been a great experience for directors and playwrights to continue collaborating during the rehearsal process,” she says.
In addition to the new, 10-minute plays and dance pieces, seniors Sam Martin and Molly Sexton direct full-length productions to conclude each night. The first weekend features “Marisol,” directed by Martin, written by Jose Rivera and starring Jackie Dressler and Shawnee Witt. Sexton’s production of “God’s Ear,” written by Jenny Schwartz, will be shown during the second weekend.
“We hope to represent our incredible student artists and provide an entertaining and enjoyable festival that showcases their creativity,” says co-producer Mak Manson ’14.

"Westmont professor John Blondell gave these writers a rubric of features and only 48 hours to produce a script. Nothing, of course, frays the nerves like a deadline; on the other hand, the results of forced creativity can be surprising." -Josheph Miller of SB Independent


Blondell Stages a World Premiere Play

February 28, 2012Platinum Circle

John Blondell, Westmont professor of theatre arts, directs a world premiere, “Platinum Circle: A Play in Three One-Acts,” Feb. 22-23 and 28, and March 1-2, 8 p.m. in Westmont’s Porter Theatre. Tickets are $7 for students and seniors, $10 for adults, and can be purchased online at westmont.edu/tickets or by calling (805) 565-7140.
Randy VanderMey, Westmont professor of English, spent more than a decade crafting the whole three-play sequence, “Cell Division,” “Fleas” and “Bluetooth Paternoster,” which probe the spiritual underside of our obsession with cell phones. “I’ve hardly made any changes to the initial drafts of any of the three plays,” VanderMey says. “When they came, they all came at white heat.”
The show features an experienced cast, including seniors Jackie Dressler and Shawnee Witt; juniors Paige Tautz, Mak Manson, Lauren White, Chris Wagstaffe and Ben Offringa; and first-year students Laura Shultz and Connor Bush. Most actors appear in one or more shows, and Manson appears in all of them.
“The plays are wild and eccentric — mysterious and quite moving,” Blondell says. “They have a vivid, compelling use of language. We have made a show that’s contemporary, off-center, and also energetic and engaging.”
Blondell is staging one of the three acts utilizing Westmont’s new black-box theater, adjacent to Porter Theatre. The downside is it holds only 45 people, so Blondell recommends audiences get their reservations early.
“I know John’s way of working with plays and actors, and I know better than to meddle,” VanderMey says. “I’m eager to see the play performed in order to learn what a brilliant director and talented actors will do with it.”

Dance Recital to Evoke ‘Motion/Emotion’

November 28, 2012
FRINGE 2012

More than 20 dancers will perform nine pieces choreographed by Westmont students and faculty members, Susan Alexander, Leah Benson and Christina Sanchez, in the fall dance recital, “Motion/Emotion,” on Thursday, Dec. 6, and Saturday, Dec. 8, both at 8 p.m. in Porter Theatre. Tickets, $10 for general admission; $7 for students and seniors, can be purchased at the door.
Miller James, adjunct professor of theatre arts, has designed the costumes for the show that includes the lighting design of Robert Hamel, assistant professor of theatre arts. Alexander, who directs the recital, says the program includes many different styles of dance, including abstract, pure-movement pieces and dance/theatre creations. “The audience will interpret the works differently, while being inspired by the physicality of the dancers and the emotion-evoking content,” she says.
Student choreographers Emily Auman and Candace Adams will perform their own works. Benson, an alumna and adjunct faculty member, has choreographed a dance for the students in her jazz class. Alexander and Sanchez, both adjunct faculty members, have worked with the seven female students in their dance performance class.
Alexander was professor of modern dance at the Paris Conservatory of Music and Dance from 1989-2008 and for the Paris Opera Ballet Company from 1985-2008. A graduate of UC Santa Barbara, Alexander earned a master’s degree in dance at Mills College.

Much Ado about ‘Much Ado’

October 28, 2012
MuchAdo
Westmont College Festival Theatre’s production of “Much Ado about Nothing” made a big splash on audiences who continued to pack Porter Theatre through the final weekend. Paige Tautz (Beatrice) and Mak Manson (Benedick) stole the show, finely balancing doses of physical comedy and slapstick. The last three shows (Nov. 1-3) drew 490 people, two shy of complete sellouts at a theatre with a maximum capacity at seats 164.

MuchAdoPaige Tautz took the plunge during her hilarious portrayal of Beatrice
First-year students Kendall Shurance (Hero) and Connor Bush convincingly explored a wide-range of emotion in the span of the 150-minute play. Senior Sam Martin (Don Pedro), junior Chris Wagstaffe (Dogberry) and junior Ben Offringa (Don John) also shone in their spirited performances.
"The whole thing sparkles with the adventurousness and high spirits of Westmont’s outstanding theater program. Between UCSB and Westmont College, Santa Barbara must count as one of the top places in the world for aspiring Shakespeareans to matriculate." - Santa Barbara Independent

‘CAR PLAYS’ TO DRIVE INTO SB’S 1ST THURSDAY

Several Westmont alumni and a current student have created and will perform three, 10-minute, original plays simultaneously inside three parked vehicles Thursday, June 7, from 5-8 p.m. in the plaza directly behind the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. “Double Feature/Double Parked” is sponsored by the museum as part of its current art exhibition, “Behind the Wheel,” and is part of the Santa Barbara Downtown Organization’s 1st Thursday. The production is free, but audience seating inside the vehicles is limited. Reservations will be accepted in person at the museum that evening.

In January 2007, after a wildly successful two-week run on Westmont’s campus, the “Car Plays Project” pulled into the same parking lot for the inaugural 1st Thursday, promoting art and culture in downtown Santa Barbara.

Alumna Diana Small, recently admitted fellow of the James Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin, has written one of the three plays, “We’re Still Kids.” Alumna Joyelle Ball directed the production, which stars alumna Stephanie Farnum and current student Chris Wagstaffe. Alumna Marie Ponce stars as a waitress in each of the three plays.

The other two plays are “Can I Take Your Order?” written by Alison Tatlock and directed and acted by Jeff Mills, UC Santa Barbara theater department lecturer, and “Be Quiet,” written and directed by Michael Bernard with performances by Bernard and Anne Torsiglieri, UCSB theater professor.

Small wrote two plays and acted in one as part of the “Car Plays Project” at Westmont in 2006. “The fun thing is there is no fourth wall,” Small says. “There are no rules about the space, the actor and audience. The actors are sitting in seats in the car with audience members a foot away. They have the option of acknowledging the audience or not and possibly even making members of the audience characters. It creates a suspenseful theatrical atmosphere — you don’t know what the rules are.”

A Trio of Indys for Westmont Theatre Actors and Director

The Indy Awards 2012The Santa Barbara Independent honored Westmont theater arts professors John Blondell and Mitchell Thomas and student Chris Wagstaffe, giving them Independent Theater Awards May 21 at the Santa Barbara Club. It is the 20th year the Independent has honored the best in Santa Barbara theater.
Blondell, who recently returned to Santa Barbara after directing Shakespeare’s “Henry VI, Part 3” at the Globe Theatre in London, earned two directing awards for “Peer Gynt” and “Henry VI, Part 3,” which he directed in Santa Barbara prior to the London shows. Over the past six years, Blondell has won Indys for directing “The Wonderful Adventures of Nils (2011),” “Our Town (2010),” “Queen C (2008)” and “King Richard II (2006).”
Thomas racked up two more Indys this year for his acting roles in “Peer Gynt” and “Creditors.” He earned Indys in 2010 for directing “The Bald Soprano” and an acting award in 2006 for “King Richard II.”
Wagstaffe, an incoming junior, won for his performance in “Peer Gynt” as the youngest Gynt.

FRINGE OFFERS ‘FRESH-LY SLICED’ PERFORMANCES
Fringe Festival

Westmont students present new works for theater, dance and performance art at “Westmont Fringe 2012: Fresh-ly Sliced,” which is modeled on fringe festivals throughout the world, April 19-21 from 6:30-10:30 p.m., beginning at Porter Theatre. A $10 general admission wristband, good for all three days of the festival, may be purchased at the box office or through Beth Whitcomb at (805) 565-7040.

This year’s fringe, billed as four hours of intense artistic stimulation, features more than 80 students performing at five different venues around campus, including a new black-box theater. “There are dance pieces, 10-minute plays, devised theater, design installation projects, live musicians and art walks all showcasing original student works,” says sophomore Paige Tautz, one of five student-producers. “Through the fusion of visual and performing arts, “Fresh-ly Sliced” is a full festival experience that will engulf audiences in a wide range of vivid performances.”

Students in Lila Rose Kaplan’s playwriting course have written nine, 10-minute plays that will be performed at the fringe. “These plays, acted and directed by students, range in styles from laugh out loud comedy to social commentary,” says Tautz, who acts in sophomore Ben Offringa’s play “The Voters” and directs senior Stephanie Farnum’s play “Nuts.”

Another distinct aspect of this year’s Fringe Festival are the routes specifically outlined for audience members. “Each of the three routes, lead by friendly tour guides, have a mixture of theatre, dance, art and music.” Tautz says. “Audiences will be whisked from venue to venue absorbing vibrant back-to-back performances.”


Mitchell Thomas

‘THE FEVER’ SPREADS TO NEW THEATER SPACE

Mitchell Thomas, Westmont theatre arts professor and department chair, performs a one-man show, “The Fever,” written by Wallace Shawn and winner of the 1991 Obie award for best play, April 26-28 all at 8 p.m. in Westmont’s new black-box theater, the Space, adjacent to Porter Theatre. General admission tickets may be purchased for $10 at the box office or by calling (805) 565-7140. Additional performances are Sunday, April 29, at 8 p.m. at Trinity Episcopal Church Parish Hall, 1500 State Street, and Wednesday, May 2, at 8 p.m. at Municipal Winemakers, 22 Anacapa Street, in downtown Santa Barbara.

Thomas, who recently played Gustav in “Creditors” at the Ensemble Theatre Company, first performed “The Fever” last spring in Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Spokane and London. “It is an extremely well-written and provocative piece of theater that is challenging to me as both an actor and as a person,” he says.

“The Fever,” directed by Maurie Lord, asks in a highly original way if it’s possible or even right for a sensitive person to be happy in today’s world. “‘The Fever’ gets under your skin, posing important questions about what it means to be human and what it means to live with privilege,” Thomas says.

Thomas’ one-man, tour-de-force performance inaugurates Westmont’s new intimate theater space. “I have been more than thrilled with the spirited debates and lively discussions we’ve had following our first round of performances,” Thomas says. “The Space is a fantastic addition to the theater facilities at Westmont with an intimate environment that is perfect for a one-person show like ‘The Fever.’”

In October, Thomas starred in the Westmont College Festival Theatre/Lit Moon Theatre Company co-production of “Peer Gynt.” In November, he produced Tim Crouch’s “ENGLAND” at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. He has won many awards, including the 2008 Arlin G. Meyer Prize, awarded biennially to a full-time faculty member from a college or university in the Lilly Fellows Program National Network.

 

Westmont College Black Box

The Latest New Spaces on Campus

When construction of Adams Center and Winter Hall ended in 2010, renovations of older facilities began.The Music Building emerged from the former Art Center in 2011, and the latest work has transformed Porter Hall and Hubbard Hall.
The theater arts department now occupies its own building: Porter Hall. Reconfiguring two classrooms and former music offices yielded a black-box theater, a seminar room and storage space for props and costumes. For the first time, the department enjoys exclusive use of PorterTheatre for productions and theater classes.
“The renovations have created a learning environment for our students, transforming their experience,” says Professor Mitchell Thomas, who chairs the department.“The black-box theater provides a dedicated rehearsal space, so we can build larger sets for main-stage productions like ‘Animal Farm’ without disrupting rehearsals.The building now feels like a theater complex. During performances of ‘Animal Farm,’ I saw dancers working out in the black box and students studying in the seminar room.” The black-box theater features a sprung- wood, Harlequin floor safe for dancers and actors. With its theatrical lighting, mirrors and drapes, the facility can host smaller, more intimate performances like one- person shows in addition to daily rehearsals and theater classes.

The Play’s the Thing

July 21, 2011 | Posted in Student Profiles

Jessica Drake ’11 hasn’t written the next act of her life yet, but she’s finding an audience for her work. The Northern California student earned an O’Neill National Critics Institute Fellowship during the American College Theatre Festival at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., April 19-23. She attends the annual National Critics Institute in July at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center in Waterford, Conn., where she’ll work with leading professional news-paper and magazine critics.

“This is an incredible opportunity to learn from more theater professionals and meet other up-and-coming writers, actors, directors and critics,” she says. “The process has been and will continue to be a valuable challenge and affirmation of my Westmont education and experience.”

Drake fell in love with the theater at Westmont. She’d intended to study English, but that changed her sophomore year when she attended England Semester. Jessica Drake

“I saw and studied some of the best theater being produced in the U.K.,” Drake says. “From Shakespeare to Chekhov to Beckett to Tim Crouch, I learned that the theater was capable of expressing and exploring much more than I ever knew, and I was hooked.”

Drake set out to create an alternative major in dramatic literature, combining her interests in English and theater. “The major balances the academic study of drama and the production of theater,” Drake says. “My double major in English was unintentional — I just couldn’t keep away.”

Fresh from England Semester, Drake decided to take to the stage instead of sit in the seats. She auditioned for “Mueveme, Muevete,” a bilingual play written by Diana Small ’09. “She was a new face to the theater department, but I was impressed by her energy, intellect and confidence,” Small says. “Since then, I have seen Jessie’s work as an actress, director, producer and drama-turge and have never been disappointed.”

Drake landed a supporting role in “Mueveme, Muevete,” served as assistant producer for the Fringe Festival and played the part of Roxy in Tyler Leivo’s ’09 senior project, “Love Me Dead.”

After three semesters of acting courses, Drake appeared in several Westmont produc-tions, including Mrs. Smith/Mr. Martin/Fire Captain in “The Bald Soprano,” Mouth in “Not I (PlayBeckett),” Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in “Macbeth: Unsexed,” and Natasha in “The Proposal (33 Swoons).”

Drake is a founding member of Ratatat Theatre Group, which includes Westmont alumni Casey Caldwell ’08, Nolan Hamlin ’09, Marie Ponce ’10 and Anna Lieberman ’11. “Body/Bach-Min/Max,” their first show, played at Center Stage Theatre last summer. The group revised it, renamed it “Roses” and performed at Fishbon in March.

Besides acting, Drake explores the fields of playwriting, directing, dramaturgy and producing. She wrote and directed her first play, “24 Circles,” for the 2010 Fringe Festival. Her one-act play, “The Place Before,” was selected for the Center Stage Theatre’s Aspiring Female Playwrights Workshop in 2010, where it received a staged reading. She co-produced Westmont Fringe 2010 and produced Fringe 2011 this year.

As a dramaturge, she worked with Lit Moon Theatre Company on its production of “The Wonderful Adventures of Nils” and Westmont’s production of “Servant of Two Masters,” where she directed the pre-show carnival. “I really enjoyed creating a new way for the audience to enter the world of commedia dell’arte,” she says. “I recruited talented circus-types from Westmont — acrobats, jugglers, stilt-walkers, unicyclists, and musicians — to put on a carnival that captured the spirit of Italian commedia. It was an incredibly fun project for me to direct and dramaturge, and I think the audience and cast enjoyed it too.”

Her work as a theater critic began her freshman year in a literature course and continued through her studies abroad. “Spoiled with a play a day in England, I was hungry for more theater when I got back to Santa Barbara, but I was too broke to pay for the meal,” she says. “One way to get free tickets is to review the shows. So I applied to work with the Santa Barbara Independent, where I got a job as a freelance reviewer.”

This experience writing theater reviews led to the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival last February in Los Angeles for the Region VIII Critics Institute, where she won first place. The next stop was the national competition in Washington, D.C.

“We wrote and edited our reviews and met with professional critics from media such as the Washington Post, the New York Times, NPR and American Theatre Magazine,” she says. “It was an incredibly challenging week, and I learned a lot about the profession and improved as a writer.

“Whatever path unfolds for me, I know that I belong in the theatre and that my education at Westmont has prepared me for what comes next.”

Blondell Racks Up Another Indy Award

June 9, 2011 | Posted in Alumni, Arts at Westmont, Campus News, Faculty and Staff, Press Releases

Lit Moon production of

"The Wonderful Adventures of Nils" (photo by Brad Elliott)

The Santa Barbara Independent honored John Blondell, Westmont theater arts professor, and James Connolly, Westmont adjunct instructor of music, with Independent Theatre Awards June 6 for their work in Lit Moon Theatre’s “The Wonderful Adventures of Nils.” Blondell directed the show, Connolly wrote the original music score. Marjatta Kuivasto also won an Indy for set design. The 19th annual Indy Theater Awards, which recognize excellent work done in the local region, were held at the Santa Barbara Club.
See full article


Double Toil, Trouble in Fast-Paced Macbeth

Mitchell Thomas Five female Westmont students perform a stripped-down, fast-paced version of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” Friday, Dec. 10, and Saturday, Dec. 11, both at 8 p.m. in Porter Theatre. The play is free and open to the public. Seating is available on a first come, first-served basis.

Mitchell Thomas, associate professor of theatre arts, directs a contemporary version of the 400-year old play, which includes modern dress and a stage completely surrounded by the audience. Thomas’ version highlights the psychological and physiological journey rather than the gore of Shakespeare’s bloodiest play.

“One of the results of cutting down the text to under an hour is that the audience will have no time to rest,” Thomas says. “It should be quite a thrilling ride for anyone who wants a guaranteed front row seat to experience talented undergraduate actors exploring this great and unsettling text.”

As an acting teacher, Thomas says he could spend infinite time delving into this rich text. “With the exception of Hamlet, Macbeth may have the most recognizable speeches, scenes and characters in the canon,” Thomas says.

With an all-woman ensemble, each actress plays a weird sister, Lady Macbeth, Macbeth and other characters in the course of the hour-long, un-sexed performance.

“All human beings have the potential for both the sacred and the profane,” Thomas says. “Rotating the characters from actress to actress may have the effect of uncovering the universal quality in their actions. What makes this a tragedy is watching these characters make choice after choice that leads to their physical destruction and moral disintegration.”

For more information, please call Beth Whitcomb at (805) 565-7140.


Westmont Dancers to Explore ‘Sacred Spaces’

November 5, 2010

The Westmont Windancers Windancers

The Windancers, Westmont’s student dance company, depict several biblical stories while exploring various spaces in and around Porter Theatre Friday, Nov. 19, and Saturday, Nov. 20, at 8 p.m. Tickets to “Sacred Spaces,” which are $5 for students/seniors; $10 general admission, can be purchased at the door or reserved through Beth Whitcomb at (805)565-7140.

Director and choreographer Erlyne Whiteman says “Sacred Spaces” reflects the creation and fall in Genesis, the Annunciation to Mary in the New Testament, the visit of the Magi and shepherds, and the illumination of the light of the world.

“I was inspired during a time of inner reflection regarding faith issues,” says Whiteman, associate professor of theatre arts. “The Windancers are experiencing their own faith-related issues. If we could explain all of these issues with words, we would not be dancers. Thus, we express our creativity, joy, pain, sorrow and light through movement and metaphor.”

Music for the concert is inspired by selections for the upcoming Westmont Christmas Festival and American music composer Philip Glass. Set design and costumes have been created with help by Bob Hamel and Miller James respectively.

 

‘EARTH STOOD STILL’ DIRECTOR TO LEAD TALK

November 2, 2010
Scott Derrickson Visits Westmont College

Scott Derrickson, writer and director of “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” and director of “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” speaks about his life and work following a free film screening of “The Exorcism of Emily Rose,” at Westmont’s Porter Theatre Friday, Nov. 5, at 8 p.m. The Reel Talk event, co-sponsored by the Westmont Theater Arts Department, the Gaede Institute for the Liberal Arts and the campus pastor’s office, is free and open to the public. Derrickson will also speak in chapel about working as a Christian horror director Nov. 5 at 10:30 a.m. in Murchison Gym. Mitchell Thomas, associate professor of theatre arts, will moderate the Reel Talk discussion with Derrickson after the screening about the development, production, and vision of “The Exorcism of Emily Rose.” “This forum will provide a more informal and intimate setting to hear from Scott,” Thomas says. “It will be wonderful for anyone interested in screenwriting, directing, the entertainment industry or the intersection of popular culture and Christianity.” “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” (2005) chronicles the haunting trial of a priest accused of negligence resulting in the death of a young girl believed to be possessed. The film, inspired by true events, stars Laura Linney as the lawyer who takes on the task of defending the priest (Tom Wilkinson) who performed the controversial exorcism. “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” starring Keanu Reeves, opened in North America December 2008 and amassed a gross revenue of more than $230 million. Derrickson’s current projects include directing an adaptation of Dan Simmons’ “Hyperion” and “The Fall of Hyperion” for Warner Brothers. He is also slated to direct Spyglass Entertainment’s “Hercules: The Thracian Wars,” Lakeshore Entertainment’s supernatural suspense thriller “The Living” and Spooky Pictures’ remake of the Danish thriller “The Substitute.” Derrickson, a Biola University graduate, earned his master’s degree in film production at the University of Southern California. For more information, please contact Beth Whitcomb at (805) 565-7040. For directions to campus and Porter Theatre, please visit www.westmont.edu.

Servant of Two Masters’ Dishes Out Laughs

October 13, 2010 Reyn Halford and Heather Ostberg The Servant of Two Masters

Reyn Halford and Heather Ostberg star in "The Servant of Two Masters." The Westmont Theater Arts Department, armed with swords and masks, begins the fall season performing “The Servant of Two Masters,” Carlo Goldoni’s commedia dell’arte masterpiece Oct. 22-23, 28 and 30 at 8 p.m. and Oct. 30 at 2 p.m in Porter Theatre. Tickets, $5 for students and $10 for adults, can be purchased at (805) 565-7140. A street festival begins a half hour before the show on the patio outside the theater. Mitchell Thomas, associate professor of theatre arts, directs Goldoni’s play, which has been adapted by Constance Congdon. “This play has it all: sword fighting, masks, mistaken identities, romance, onstage live musicians, song, dance, passion, and disaster all rolled into a delightful farce,” Thomas says. “We are in search of the belly laugh, and we hope that our audiences will have a really, really good time with us.” “The Servant” is a dramatic departure from last year’s exploration into absurdist theater, for which Thomas earned an Indy Award as director of “The Bald Soprano.” “After a fantastic but dark season last year, I wanted to start this year off with a performance that would unleash joy and laughter, and work from a place of pleasure and abandon,” Thomas says. “I’ve also been working with students in acting classes on clown and physical comedy and wanted to give them a vehicle to develop as comic performers.” The cast includes seniors Heather Ostberg and Nolan Hamlin, juniors Reyn Halford and Felisha Vasquez, sophomores Sam Martin and Jackie Dressler, and first-year students Ben Offringa, Paige Tautz, Chris Wagstaffe, Mak Manson and Micah Sapienza. It’s the premiere production of Robert Hamel, Westmont’s new full-time professor in theatrical design and technology. Hamel has developed the pre-show carnival with dramaturge Jessie Drake ’11, allowing the audience to experience the improvisational street performance atmosphere in the commedia tradition of Italy during the mid16th century.

Theatre Professors Honored at 2010 Indy Awards

May 24, 2010
Miller James, Mitchell Thomas, John Blondell at Indy awards

‘Our Town’ Features Westmont Faculty, Alumni

February 24, 2010

Several prominent Westmont faculty and alumni are featured in Santa Barbara Theatre’s production of “Our Town” Feb. 25-26 and March 5-6 at 8 p.m. and March 6-7 at 2 p.m. at the Lobero Theatre, 33. E. Canon Perdido St. Tickets range in price from $20-$95.50 and can be purchased by calling (805) 963-0761 or visiting lobero.com.

The performance of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1938, features Westmont theatre arts professor John Blondell, who directs the play, and Mitchell (McLean) Thomas, who plays George Gibbs. Ensemble members include Anna Lieberman ’11, Casey Caldwell ’08 and Kate Paulsen ’05. Elaine Galang ’11 is the assistant stage manager. Blondell, known for his avant-garde directing, says in this case he hasn’t played fast and loose with the text. “I’m trying to really play the play,” he says. “At the time of its writing ‘Our Town’ was a radical kind of drama. It has become identified as a traditional American drama, but there are so many theatrical aspects to it — a wonderful sense of shifting space and time, which I love to play with. It also has themes of what are we doing here and thinking of eternity, and when you put it together with a great cast, it’s a rich opportunity for me.”

Thomas says that producing “Our Town” with professionals from our town has been very community building. “It’s been a fantastic experience delving into this funny, haunting and beautiful play,” he says. “Liviu Ciulei says that a classic is a classic because it is modern, and I think audiences will be deeply impacted by the production.”

Independent Names Blondell

A Local Hero

November 30th, 2009

John Blondell

John Blondell

The Santa Barbara Independent has named John Blondell, Westmont theater arts professor and artistic director of Lit Moon Theatre Company, a 2009 Local Hero. The weekly publication describes Blondell as a theatrical visionary. “In addition to producing innovative shows both in Santa Barbara and at theater festivals around the world, Lit Moon has become the sponsor of a series of Shakespeare and world theater festivals that bring to Santa Barbara outstanding examples of physical theater from places as far afield as Belgium, Prague, Finland and Macedonia,” the Independent says.
Blondell, who has been teaching at Westmont since 1991, has brought an international perspective to theater, and Lit Moon has enriched theatrical offerings with cutting-edge, avant-garde performances. His World Shakespeare Festival in Santa Barbara is the first of its kind in the nation and one of only seven in the world.
His directing work has been seen in Bulgaria, Scotland, Canada, Poland, Czech Republic, Montenegro, and Macedonia. Blondell earned a doctorate in dramatic art from UC Santa Barbara. He has received six Independent Theatre Awards, a 1994 Robby Award and the 2003 Faculty Research Award from Westmont.
For more information about the Independent’s Local Heroes 2009, please visit: http://www.independent.com/news/2009/nov/25/independents-local-heroes/

Mondern Dance at Westmont Takes on the Myth of Pandora

November 19, 2010

Beauty Bomb

Beauty Bomb,” a creative combination of dance and theater, explores the ancient Greek mythology about Pandora, the first woman, Nov. 19-21 at 8 p.m. in Westmont’s Porter Theatre. General admission is $10, $5 for students and seniors. For tickets or more information, please call (805) 565-7040.
Lila Rose Kaplan, Westmont theater arts instructor, directs the play that was written by Westmont alumna Diana Small ‘09. “The play examines issues of curiosity, fashion and what it means to be a woman today,” Kaplan says.

Jenny April Kaplan is guest choreographer for “Beauty Bomb,” which features first-year students Felisha Vasquez and Kelsey Knox; sophomores Kelsey Kasten, Misha Matsumoto and Emily Auman; juniors Hannah Rae Moore, Rachel Nesseth, Megan Juliot and Jasmine Guerrero; and seniors Marie Ponce and Laurie Niesen.
Lila Rose Kaplan, who teaches playwriting and mentors undergraduate playwrights at Westmont, earned a master of fine arts degree at the University of California, San Diego, where she studied with Naomi Iizuka.

'She'll Go On'

October 20, 2009

Laurie Niesen Senior Theatre Student to give Dramaturgy on
The Bald Soprano

Westmont senior Laurie Niesen uncovers playwright Eugéne Ionesco’s attack on linguistic meaning during a lecture, “I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On: Theatrical Modernism and Mitchell Thomas’ Staging of Ionesco’s the Bald Soprano,” Friday, Oct. 23, at 3:30 p.m. in Porter Theatre. Niesen has been working as dramaturge and production research assistant for The Bald Soprano, which is being performed Oct. 22-24, 29-31 in Porter Theatre. Thomas, who directs the play, will speak at the lecture, as well as John Blondell, Westmont theatre arts professor.
Niesen says she hopes to demystify the play by exploring its relevance to contemporary time. “My ultimate goal is to open up conversations about the play that consider why humans, and in particular Christians and Americans, struggle with Ionesco’s iconoclastic view of linguistic meaning,” she says.

THOMAS AIMS FOR LAUGHS IN BALD SOPRANO

October 22, 2009 The Bald Soprano

A rotating cast of eight actors perform Eugéne Ionesco’s brilliantly funny farce “The Bald Soprano” Oct. 22-24, 29-31 in Westmont’s Porter Theatre at 8 p.m. General admission is $10, $5 for student and seniors.

“Most of the actors are playing multiple roles and each performance will feature a different combination of actors playing a different combination of roles,” says Theater Arts Professor Mitchell Thomas, who directs the play. “Essentially, no two performances will be alike so audiences will be able to come again and again to re discover the play as the actors perform it fresh each time.”

Ionesco’s play, which was originally premiered in 1950, has undergone a new translation by American playwright Tina Howe.

“Ionesco described this play a tragedy of language as the characters lose their ability to communicate with one another and are literally reduced to sound and fury in the final scene,” Thomas says. “In the play, language is the only vehicle for character due to the absurdist and contradictory structure of the piece. I speak, therefore I am. When speech devolves or is lost, what is left? In an age of Twitter, sound bites, email, and Facebook, I think the question of how we communicate and whether we are really saying anything at all is incredibly relevant, and happens to also be funny in Ionesco’s play.”

Thomas recently appeared in the roles of Othello and Isabel in a fusion of Othello/Measure for Measure directed by Lilia Abedjieva of the Bulgarian National Theatre. His recent directing projects have focused on the generation of new plays, working directly with playwrights. His last production of “Muéveme, Muévete” was an original bilingual site-specific piece written by a playwriting student. But for the first fall performance Thomas wanted to direct a lighter play.

“I was looking to do something that would be a rollicking good time for audiences,” Thomas says. “This play is fantastically funny and has been hilarious to work on in rehearsals. What's brilliant about Ionesco, though, is his ability to make us laugh even as the play contains an undercurrent of fear and desperation in the lives of the characters.”

The cast features first-year actors Sam Martin, Spencer Fox, and Shawnee Witt; sophomore actress Brittany Chaco; junior actresses Jessie Drake, Jessica Papp and Hannah Rae Moore; and senior actress Marie Ponce.

“I have been heavily influenced by time theory in my concept of the play and the casting and performance concept reflects those ideas,” Thomas says. “I hope audiences laugh themselves to tears and enjoy the opportunity to witness one of the seminal works of a brilliant and rarely performed modern master playwright.”

Director Discusses Staging Show in Balkans

September 17th, 2008

Actors from John Blondell, Westmont theater arts professor, reveals how he developed and directed a world premiere play last summer in Macedonia at a free lecture, “Another Fool in the Balkans,” Friday, Sept. 18, in Westmont’s Porter Theatre at 3:30 p.m. Blondell will discuss how he co-wrote “An American Tune” with Jeton Neziraj, artistic director of the National Theatre of Kosovo in Prishtina, and staged at the Bitola National Theatre in August. The play is based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous novel, “The Great Gatsby.”
“When the rights to the novel proved too difficult to obtain,” Blondell says, “Jeton and I wrote a show inspired by the novel. The talk will discuss this labyrinthine past, how I came to write most of the show, and some of the cross-cultural and aesthetic challenges of its staging in Macedonia this past summer.”

Global Theatre Recognized for Local Performance

October 20, 2008

Othello/Measure for Measure

Lilia Abadjieva works with actors in rehearsal for "Measure for Measure/Othello."

The Lit Moon World Shakespeare Festival, led by artistic director and Westmont theater professor John Blondell, earned two Indy awards at the 2009 ceremony hosted by the Santa Barbara Independent. The annual theater awards recognize excellent work done in the local region.

Lilia Abadjieva received an award for her direction of the Lit Moon and Westmont co-production of “Measure for Measure/Othello,” which blended the two political plays into an expressive new work. Abadjieva, a distinguished Bulgarian director, was an artist-in-residence at Westmont in the fall of 2008. She worked with Westmont students, alumni and theater department chair Mitchell Thomas to develop the play.

Finnish actress Nina Sallinen won for her one-woman performance of “Poor, Poor Lear” in Westmont’s Porter Theater. She portrays an aging actress who chooses “King Lear” as her farewell performance.

A third play associated with the World Shakespeare Festival also took home honors. Irwin Appel of the University of California, Santa Barbara, theater department accepted an award for his direction of “The Winter’s Tale.”