Theatre Company Brings Student Ideas to Life

But the company’s valuable resources have gone predominantly untapped.

“We are stuck in Revelle, desperately trying to reach north,” the company’s managing director Justin O’Neill said. “Once you pass Mandeville, no one knows we exist.”

Company 157 provides UCSD’s burgeoning artists with the money, venues, props, costumes and staff to turn their lofty visions into elaborate realities.

“My job is to say ‘no’ as little as possible,” O’Neill said.

Five years ago, undergraduate theatre students Kendra Miller and Matt Barrs founded the organization as an outlet to select their own plays for production — ones that the theatre department wouldn’t put on. And though the original intentions were initially more self-serving, it was this spirit of artistic outreach that laid the foundations of faculty and graduate student cooperation.

One of Company 157’s aims is to bridge UCSD’s undergraduate theatre and dance programs with its top-ranked graduate programs, supplying undergraduates with a wider spectrum of opportunities and focused help.

Company 157 holds workshops open to all students, led by professionals knowledgeable in the fields of stage make-up, improvisation and auditioning. The fourteen current board members, selected through an application and interview process, meet twice a week, but dedicate a far larger portion of their lives to procuring personal connections with undergraduate theatre department faculty, graduate students, as well as industry professionals.

This year, Company 157 financed and supported the Shakespeare production “Much Ado About Nothing,” the visual arts and theatre collaborative piece “Radical Acts of Desire” and “Howl,” a Halloween art exhibit featuring acapella, improvisation, performance and visual art — though most UCSD students wouldn’t be able to tell you that.

Last school year, they focused their spring quarter energy and funds on Our New Play Spectacular — an entirely student-organized theatrical showcase. Not only were the actors, directors and technicians all undergraduate students of various majors, but the plays were also student-written.

This year, the festival has been renamed the Underground New Play Festival — a change emblematic of a new company tradition: For the first time ever, the spring undergraduate play festival has become an official department show.

“The department believed in the students enough to put their name on it,” co-chair Bianna Hill said. “We are still doing our jobs, just with more support; we are now being trusted with the infrastructural responsibilities.”

In Winter Quarter, Company 157 called upon budding playwrights to submit their tellable tales. The group received 35 scripts, narrowing them down to the eight plays that will be showcased through June 4 in the Arthur Wagner Theatre. Directors were then interviewed and chosen by the Company board mem- bers, and those given the opportunity to lead committed themselves to a quarter’s worth of casting, rehearsing with and inspiring a small group of actors.

This year UNPF is operating on its largest scale yet, with upwards of 80 undergraduates involved in varying aspects of the creative and production processes.

The eight plays are being split into two showcases (A & B), promising to explore the hallucinations of Goldilocks, utter memory loss and the fateful decisions that accompany drinking tomato juice.

“Butterfly in China,” directed by Sean Estelle and written by Lexi Saunders, is a complex meditation on the echoing repercussions of a single choice. The play follows two separate yet intersecting stories — one of a college professor lecturing on the chaos theory, and another of two strangers who meet at a bus stop.

Karen Li’s “Surprise in Sea Sharp” (directed by Claire Kaplan) is a surreal comedy set 20,000 feet in the air. The passengers of a commercial airliner learn the importance and limitations of human compassion with the help of complimentary beverages, the mile-high club and a few very important camels.

O’Neill challenges the creative souls of UCSD to come forward with even more fresh ideas just waiting to be endorsed.

“We’d like to see found space theatre,” O’Neill said. “We want daring non-standard thinking.”

— Rebecca Limerick

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