A Guide to Student Theater at Kenyon
When I was applying to colleges and comparing their drama programs, I found it challenging to get a good sense of extracurricular, student-run theater culture, since this is not normally covered on department webpages. A few student-written blog posts ended up providing the most helpful insight in this area. I don’t recall being able to find one for Kenyon, and if one did exist at some point it could surely benefit from an update — as student theater evolves rapidly depending on the current student body — so here goes. I hope this post convinces you of the variety and abundance of student productions we stage at Kenyon each year!
Kenyon College Dance & Dramatic Club (KCDC)
First up is KCDC, which produces our department-run productions. KCDC itself is run by a student board, but these shows are selected, directed, and usually designed by faculty. Tickets cost money (although not a lot of it — $2 for Kenyon students) whereas just about all other productions and performances on campus have free admission. Performances also take place in our larger, more fully-equipped theaters (the Bolton and the Hill) and have access to the most resources. Every year, the KCDC season includes three “main stage” shows directed and designed by faculty, two dance concerts choreographed by a mix of faculty and students, and a varying number of senior thesis shows (put on by drama majors as part of their senior exercises) depending on the size of the senior class. While getting cast to act in a department show is sometimes regarded as a holy grail, there are many ways to get involved on the tech and production side of things right from the beginning of your first year. Each production offers new opportunities for set and costume shop volunteers, light and sound board operators, run crew, and assistant stage managers.
Brave Potato Productions
Now onto the student-organized groups, meaning that a board of students produces shows directed, acted, designed, you-name-it, by students. Brave Potato is our most versatile student theater group, and probably has the largest number of students involved throughout the year. During my time at Kenyon. they’ve put on musicals (currently the only group to do so regularly), contemporary plays, Shakespeare, an annual 24-hour plays festival (which is as chaotic as it sounds, but also a lot of fun) and just about everything in between. Shows are normally performed either in the Black Box Theater or are staged as site-specific productions in less traditional venues (academic buildings, Peirce Dining Hall, Weaver Cottage, and others — see above for a photo of Harold Pinter's “Betrayal” staged in Weaver) on modest — but existent — budgets. All classes are welcome, although directors and production stage managers are usually sophomores or older.
The cast of Brave Potato's “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” by Tom Stoppard, poses in Kenyon's previous Black Box Theater (Spring 2015).
StageFemmes also welcomes all grades and puts on several productions per semester, plus a one-act festival featuring pieces written by Kenyon alumni each fall. Seeking to “showcase the underrepresented talents of women in all aspects of theater,” they produce works featuring strong female roles and present the unique voices of contemporary female playwrights. Productions often take place in the Horn Gallery or in site-specific venues. StageFemmes was revived a few years ago by a pair of Kenyon students who have now launched their own professional theater company, the Hearth, pursuing a similar mission in New York City. So that’s something we can all be simultaneously inspired and intimidated by.
Renegade is our all-first year theater group, which is pretty awesome as it gives interested students the opportunity to try out more leadership-heavy roles such as directing, stage managing and board positions right away in a friendly, low-stakes environment. The amount and genre of productions vary depending on the preferences of each year’s board, but Renegade usually puts up at least two or three shows in the Black Box or a site-specific venue.
The Billy Shakes Project
The mission of Billy Shakes is to stage two or three heavily abridged (one hour or less) renditions of Shakespearean plays per year, which they perform on campus as well as on tour at local schools and libraries in the community. Unlike all the other groups I’ve discussed, which hold separate auditions for each show, Billy Shakes holds a single round of auditions for their troupe each fall. One benefit of this system is that the relatively small group of actors and crew gets to bond and form a tighter-knit company through the course of rehearsing several different plays; one downside is that it makes for a more weighted, all-or-nothing audition than most you will encounter at Kenyon.
For those interested in producing their own independent project outside of one of these organizations, that is absolutely an option. Several forms of funding are available by application, including the Horn Gallery Theater Grant, which provides a performance venue as well.
An independent production of “It's a Wonderful Life! A Live Radio Play” in the Horn Gallery (Fall 2016).
To my knowledge, that covers all the traditional theater organizations currently active on campus, but who said theater has to be traditional? There are many other performance-related organizations well worth checking out if you’re interested in improv, stand-up comedy, dance or a cappella, just to name a few. If you find a niche that’s yet to be filled, new organizations can be established by students at any time!