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FPTC provides new avenue for student theatre

By Beck Holden

Section: Arts

September 1, 2006

This year, another new theatre group will be offering a series of plays to Brandeis audiences. The Free Play Theatre Collective (FPTC) was founded last year by Artistic Director Josh Mervis 08 and Managing Director Brian Paternostro 07 in collaboration with the Theater Arts Department;

after careful planning, its inaugural season will begin this fall.
The first problem any new club must face is finding its place in the university. With the Undergraduate Theater Collective offering 4 plays and a sketch comedy show every semester, 2-3 Brandeis Theater Company shows each semester, Hold Thy Peaces Shakespearean offerings, and assorted theatre projects and theses, the FPTC may seem to be trying to squeeze into an already crowded field.
Mervis, however, disputes this viewpoint. In a recent email statement, he wrote, What may seem like an overcrowded theater scene is in reality an underutilized one. Many people shy away from getting involved with theater as an extracurricular due to what may seem to them like an overwhelming amount of rehearsals at a time that kills a persons social life. What were going to do with FPTC is create an effective cross between BTC and UTC that allows for high quality productions of shows that challenge the actors and designers skills, while maintaining a production schedule that stays within the realm of sanity. Do the students at Brandeis need FPTC? Well, lets just say that they deserve another option that is an actual alternative.
An interesting element of the FPTC is that, unlike the UTC, its structure much more closely resembles that of a professional theatre companypositions include Artistic Director, Managing Director, Production Manager, several Artistic Associates, and a Student Written Works Coordinator. And yes, Mervis added, Were planning on producing a variety of student works.
Although the creation of the company was made possible with considerable help from members of the Theater Arts Department, Mervis emphasized that the FPTC is not with the department yet. He did note that their long-term plan is to integrate the FPTC into the department as its own undergraduate theater company, with a full season just like the BTC.
The three shows on the slate for the inaugural semester of the FPTC are Charles Mees Summer Evenings in Des Moines, The Black Eyed by Betty Shamieh, and Jason Robert Browns hit musical The Last Five Years. Mee may be a familiar playwright to Brandeis audienceshe wrote Big Love, the well-received opener of the 2005-06 BTC season. Director Katie Nadworny 09 described it as a play about the search for an American identity and the people who live on the fringes of the American Dream or feel marginalized by the expectations of mainstream society. She further explained, The play is set as a combination of a vaudeville show and a circus, with the actors as the both the performers and observers of the spectacle. Vaudeville is a dead American art form from a happier nostalgic time that the characters reach back towards in order to make their lives have some sense. The play calls for a ventriloquist among other special talents, and Nadworny looks forward to molding the play around any special talents brought in by the ensemble. This play will be performed in the Gluck in Usdan, a venue that assures an intimate and very unique theatrical experience for both actors and audience.
Jennie El-Far 07 will be directing The Black Eyed as her senior thesis. The play is about four Palestinian/Philistine women from varying historical eras and backgrounds whose paths cross in Limbo, outside the supposed Martyr Room. In explanation of her decision to direct this play, El-Far wrote, I am drawn to this play because of its message and because of its necessity to be shown to a Brandeis audience, especially after the crisis over the Palestinian children's artwork exhibit last semester. It is important to me as a director to do work that makes people talk, makes them think, causes them to get agitated and ask questions of their own beliefs. This is just the play to do that. The show will run Thursday, Nov. 30 through Saturday, December 2 in Spingolds Merrick Theater. Each performance will be free of charge, open to the public, and followed by a post-show forum.
The third play that the FPTC will produce this semester will be The Last Five Years, under the direction of Justin Becker 09. This musical charts the five-year relationship between Jamie, a novelist, and Cathy, an actress. The twist is that, while Jamie presents his side of the story in a normal beginning to end fashion, Cathys story starts at the end and ends at the beginning. Becker noted that he is drawn to this show by the incredible, innovative music of Jason Robert Brown. One of my favorite composers and writers of musical theater is Sondheim for his unique style, and I find Jason Robert Brown to be an extension of his style, telling the story not only through lyrics but through the members of the orchestra. This will be the first undergraduate-led production ever to be performed in Spingolds Laurie Theater. Becker is excited to have this venue at his disposal;

it has the intimacy of the Merrick, but offers more seating and room for an orchestra. I also like the fact that in the Laurie, you can see the show from many different angles and perspectives and that is the basis of Last Five Years, Becker added.
This is not all that may be expected from the Free Play Theatre Collective. Mervis has indicated that they will sponsor a freshman showcase, which will be performed the same evening as an upperclassman showcase that FPTC will be co-sponsoring. And remember, they are looking for student works! If you have any interest in helping out with the FPTC, want to submit plays for consideration, or just have some questions, contact Josh Mervis. Otherwise, be sure to check out the innovative theatrical offerings of this new group.

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