Diamond in the rough in UT’s theater program


Fanny Trang

Will Davis (left), a graduate theater major, and Olivia Dunn (right), a third year theater and dance major, are both members of the UT Theater Laboratory located behind the F. Loren Winship Drama Building. The lab theater is a new kind of venue, entirely student-run, that offers young talents the opportunity to experiment with theater.

Rene Castro

In the midst of the glamorous and high-budget theater that happens at this university, there is a diamond tucked away behind the Winship Drama Building. The Lab Theatre is a space for student-funded, created and produced work. Will Davis, the artistic producer of the Lab Theatre for three years running, likes to describe the space as a venue where students can “stretch themselves beyond what they think they can do.” Davis said the Lab Theatre solves a very common problem in the theater world, not just here but all across the country: new theater needs a place to experiment. No work is deemed too radical or avant-garde to be accepted into the Lab’s season. Whether it is a classic, an adaptation of a classic or a completely new work that is still in the making, all projects can find a home in the Lab.

A collection of new works, including “The Farewell,” opens Sept. 29. Still in its early phases, this “workshop” — theater slang for a production that is still in the works — will unveil multiple performances written by students. This showcase offers a unique opportunity to be involved with the formation of a budding creative initiative. There will be audience participation as well as a Q-and-A “talk back“ after the show so audience members can voice thoughts and opinions. “The Farewell,“ directed by students Olivia Dunn and Katie Folger, centers on exploring the emotions of loss and grief, while other plays in the showcase focus on other emotions.

Rather than make something new altogether, UT alumnus Diego Medellin chose to create an adaptation of Woyzeck, the German classic, into “23{WOYZECK}23,” which opens Oct. 3. The seating will be on the stage, so theatergoers will be able to see from up close the tale of a man who is humiliated, beaten and ultimately has to make life-changing decisions. The playwright died at the age of 23, leaving this play incomplete and out of order. The 23-year-old Medellin embraced the parallel between his and the playwright’s age and decided to stretch himself creatively as the playwright had done, adding things to the work and arranging the scenes according to his own creative vision.

“One of the hardest things is deciding how much respect I should give to the playwright,” said Medellin, who has stayed in Austin after graduating to continue his work in theater.

“The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged)” is a more tried-and-true piece of phenomenal theater, opening Oct. 25. A YouTube search brings up many examples of the performance’s quick repartee and physical comedy. The creative license of the play allows for certain alterations in order to keep the piece current with the times, so potential audience members needn’t be afraid of seeing something dated. Theatre studies junior Kelli Kent, who is directing the play, said one of the allures of this piece is its ability to poke fun at something that has ingrained itself in cultures throughout the world.

“It’s a good way to introduce people to Shakespeare. You should be able to laugh at it,” Kent said. As anyone who has read the Bard’s plays can tell you, sometimes circumstances in Shakespeare’s plays become truly absurd, and that’s exactly what “The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged)” harps on. The students collaborating on this production intend to stay true to the quick and witty banter that put this play on the map and they don’t plan on shying away from the physical aspect, either. Kent said that one of the stunt-driven scenes took two hours to choreograph.

These diamonds in the rough are the pulse that keeps the arts fresh, new and exciting. The Lab Theatre had an strong season last semester with such works as the beautifully constructed “Cloud Tectonics,” the introspective and heart-thumping “Love Is…” and the wildly funny and incredibly innovative “100 Gun Deaths.” This upcoming season promises to be just as touching and imaginative. These are works that are not to be missed, and since all of these performances are free, there is no reason not to go.  

Printed on Tuesday, September 4th, 2012 as: Diamond in the rough