University theater is a bargain and what you see may not be Broadway material, but the tickets are cheap.
Okay. Go ahead and dismiss campus theater as "bush league," but many playwrights choose to premiere their masterpieces on the college level. You never know if the next performance you see will launch the career of another Eugene O'Neill.
Father Gilbert Hartke, a pioneer in university theater, has seem many talented students enter the professional arena. During his 40-odd years in drama at Catholic University, actor Jon Voight, playwrights Joe Walker ("River Niger"), Mart Crowley ("Boys in the Bank") and many more later luminaries have passed under his tutelage.
Catholic University's Hartke Theater will be premiering a new musical this season, "Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" by two Hartke alumni, Andrew Webber and Tim Rice, the creaters of "Jesus Christ Superstar."
The first show of the campus season will be the University of Maryland's presentation Jan. 20-22 of an original Irish play for adventures, "Deirdre of the Sorrows."
Next month Gallaudet College will present a signed adaptation of "The Diary of Anne Frank," entirely produced and directed by students. The play's characters use American Sign Language, facial expressions and body movements to convey the dialogue. For "talkies" in the audience, there will be readers to translate the dialogue into spoken language.
The pace picks up in March. At Howard University's Aldridge Theater, the drama department will perform "Rampart Street," Joseph Walker's new musical based on the life of 1890s New Orleans black band leader Buddy Bolden. And the University of District of Columbia will premiere "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," Annie Crittenden's drama about the breakup of an alchoholic man and woman.
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"University theater overhead is cheap," says Howard University drama department chairman Ted Cooper. "Students will work just for the experience." And the pressure to make a buck, which often means cutting corners in a production, just isn't as great as on Broadway. That makes campus theater a good place for innovation and experimentation.
And don't worry about feeling out of place in a campus theater. Non-students, as they so graciously classify us, often dominate the audience.