Theatre is an inherently collaborative art. The final product on opening night is a team effort, the combined vision of dedicated directors, designers, actors and stage managers. Here at Vassar, we can proudly claim that this collaboration goes beyond the rehearsals and design meetings; it is a spirit deeply rooted in the vibrant student theatre community.
Every May brings about a new group of integral members involved in student theatre who graduate after four years of dedication. Over their undergraduate careers, these seniors have borne witness and been the agents of change for the vast presence student theatre still has. And while everyone will go on to do fantastic things and we will miss them dearly, what we lose in presence we gain in gratitude for the years to come.
As they look back over their time at Vassar, several seniors sat down to reflect on their experience and discuss both how they have seen student theatre change and how student theatre has changed them.
Max Fine ’17 has been the president of Merely Players since Fall 2015 and is one of the most dedicated and trustworthy people in student theatre. While he has designed for other student theatre orgs, Fine’s involvement in Merely Players’ growing presence at Vassar has been indispensable. Fine talked about what drew him to student theatre and Merely Players in particular: “I like doing theatre. I like the closeness it fosters and the friends I’ve made from it. I think so many of my close friends I made from working on ‘Richard’ and Arden and ‘Tony & Cleo.’ And so for me I’ve really just liked the closeness of going in and working every day with a group of people. It feels nice and I really do enjoy that closeness. I also feel that because Merely’s a bit more of a self-sustaining community in itself, you usually get a few holdovers between a lot of different shows. With other orgs, it’s much more show-dependent, whereas it’s also show-dependent with Merely, but one good show means you have someone stick around for longer than just that show, which is really nice.”
Ryan Eykholt ’17 has been a member of both the board of Future Waitstaff of America (FWA) and of the Shiva Theater staff. A welcoming figure in the student theatre community, Eykholt has taken on numerous roles, such as acting, directing and playing in the pit band. Eykholt co-directed FWA’s “Formerly Known,” a devised musical, in Fall 2015.
“When I first joined student theatre, I liked seeing how passionate and driven and creative all the students here are and the diversity of storytelling and art that people were making,” Eykholt, a media studies major, commented, reflecting on howhe has been able to integrate theatre into his life. “I found it to be incredibly fulfilling and found it to be a better outlet for me to do theatre than through a major. It’s been nice over four years, having the flexibility with it. I think I’ve [developed] varying degrees of flexibility over that time.”
Eykholt continued, “All and all, I think it’s really been just the people I’ve been working with. It’s hard to sum them up in distinct memories, but it’s been really amazing to learn from so many awesome people.”
Lee Anne Meeks ’17 has worked in essentially every role and with essentially every single student theatre org at Vassar. One of the most beloved theatremakers on campus, she cherishes the time she’s spent with Idlewild the moving during these past four years, from seeing the ensemble grow in numbers and having the benefit of directing The Five Lesbian Brothers’ “The Secretaries” this past semester.
“In terms of roles, I appreciate student theatre for giving me the opportunity to spread my wings as a theatremaker in that I’ve been able to direct, dramaturg, design, manage, and perform,” Meeks said in an email about the boundless opportunities student theatre has offered. “Student theatre allows easy introduction to roles even if one has never done them before.”
She continued: “Vassar has provided me with the opportunity to accept theater-making as a passion as opposed to shoving myself in a box wherein flexibility is unallowed. Even if all of my individual skillsets are not honed, I believe I have gained willingness to try new things and the ability to believe in myself when the going gets difficult.”
Logan Pitts ’17 is one of the kindest, friendliest and tallest people you will find in student theatre and, like Meeks, has worn many hats in campus theatre productions. He has worked with Unbound and Philaletheis, but primarily has been involved with FWA productions, acting, directing and choreographing for multiple shows.
Pitts reflected on some of his favorite moments working with FWA. “Coming in, ‘Violet’ was my first show at FWA and it was just the most delightful time,” he reflected in an email. “It was a great cast; we were very close; I loved all those people and working with them, and just getting to perform and doing something I love. Equally then, working on ‘Lemonade’ as director, I also love directing, and then again it was the perfect, right group of people to make something work as fast as it needed to happen. It was exciting. Student theatre’s always been very community-oriented in that way, and that’d done it for me.”
Outgoing FWA president Becky Wilson ’17, who has given some of the most eclectic performances in many of the group’s shows, cabarets and midnight musicals, also had fond memories of her time in student theater. Besides her work with FWA, Wilson has also acted in Philaletheis special events and full-lengths and in Unbound’s “Dead Fish, Ma Fish.”
Wilson reflected on what convinced her to get more involved with Vassar’s student theatre community when she was a first-year: “I fell in love with it and the people were so passionate about it. I loved that it was led by students and peers could lift each other up and help each other out to make incredible art. One thing that’s beautiful about the student theatre here is that everybody has the opportunity to learn and grow from things even if they don’t have the experience.”
“I think my favorite show I’ve ever been involved in is ‘Into the Woods,’ which just happened,” Wilson continued. “It’s such a beautiful show. And if we’re talking about my growth as an artist, I would never have been able to have done that my freshman year. And I feel really proud of myself for getting to that point.”
Outgoing president of Philaletheis Landry Levine ’17 has been a member of Shakespeare Troupe the last four years. His work with Philaletheis and the Student Theatre Alliance has helped student theatre become a stronger community for creativity and inclusivity. Levine commented on the creative possibilities he has embraced in the student theatre community, saying in an email, “I’m going to miss how easy it is to make theatre here and how there aren’t commercial pressures the same way there are in the professional world. I don’t know if I really want to transition into that professional way of making theatre. If I keep doing it, I want to keep doing it the way we do it here, for fun. I feel so lucky to be in a place where there is a vibrant community where dozens of productions go up every semester. And I see all this new work and learn from all the talented peers working around me.”
Zeke Maben ’17 is one of the busiest people at Vassar but also one of the most hard-working, and displayed similar commitment to evaluating the role and tone of student theatre orgs. He has been a key member of the Merely Players community and has taken on countless roles in productions. In Fall 2016, for example, Maben directed Philaletheis’ “The Lion in Winter.”
Maben spoke about how he hopes Merely Players, and the student theatre community in general, progresses in the years to come. “I’d love to see two or three Merely Players shows every semester,” he said. “I hope that it gets to a point where no one has any expectations going into a show. I want it to be where the student theatre community is so diverse in terms of creative output and the people in it that you don’t go and say ‘Are you going to go see the new Merely Players show? I’m sure that X, Y, and Z will happen.’ I want it to that there’s so much creative diversity in the show-to-show output that you can’t pin down an org as ‘They do this’ or ‘They do this.’ And I think we’re well on our way towards that.”
Elizabeth Snyderman, lastly, has been the president of Unbound since Fall 2016, but has been on the board since sophomore year. Also a key member of Vassar’s comedy scene as president of Indecent Exposure, Snyderman has pushed the boundaries of student theatre, whether it was the various staged cold readings of plays or “Poundcake Family Band,” which Snyderman co-wrote and co-directed, to name a few.
“I think I now conceive of myself more as a writer or in general as a theatremaker, which I feel a lot of people at Vassar do,” Snyderman stated. “[Other students often] conceive of themselves less as ‘This is a thing I do’ and more broadly. I’ve definitely gained a lot of skills in thinking of theatre as a bigger picture and thinking about what theatre can be and what is in a performance,” Snyderman expressed, reflecting on how her campus involvement has redefined her artistic identity.
Snyderman continued: “It’s been artistically fulfilling in a lot of ways. I feel that the more involved you get in student theatre, the more you become aware of ways you can put on your weird projects. What’s so great about student theatre in college is that it’s the only time in your life where people are just going to give you money to do weird things. And so I hope that people keep being weird and proposing weird concepts.”
Whatever happens with these seniors after Sunday’s Commencement ceremony, they will be able to cherish the skills they have learned and the memories they have made from the student theatre community for the rest of their lives.