Powerhouse Theater presents 30th season Apprentices gain professional experience

This year marks the 30th Powerhouse Theater Training Program, a summer program designed to give students the opportunity to work with famous directors and actors, and to give newly-created theater pieces a chance to be in workshops with highly-regarded members of the theater community.

This summer, the program will come once again to Vassar, bringing with it various performances, aspiring actors and playwrights, and endless opportunities for students and professional performers alike.

The Powerhouse Theater summer program is a collaborative effort between New York Stage & Film and Vassar College, bringing professional theater workshops and performances to the college campus.

There are two sides to this program: the professional side, featuring famous actors and directors who are putting on various, newly-made shows, and the apprentice side, in which Vassar students perform well-known shows while learning from the esteemed artists who will be on campus. This allows for two main functions of the program: fostering the development of new shows and aiding in the theater education of apprentice students.

The summer theater program is a long-standing tradition, and has proven to be a suitable setting for the creation of new theater works. Jeff Kosmacher, the Director of Media Relations and Public Affairs said, “New York State and Film approached Vassar three decades ago about establishing a program that would be dedicated to presenting and producing theater works.”

Kosmacher also emphasized that Vassar was not the only school with this type of theater program available. “This project occurs outside of NYC and outside of theater press so that these works could be developed free of commercial pressure and at the same time have an audience see these works in process so they can get their sea legs and eventually make their way to larger stages and audiences around the country and around the world,” said Kosmacher.

On the professional side of the Powerhouse Theater summer program, there will be two different types of performances: fully-completed theater works and pieces in the beginning stages of development. Kosmacher said, “The season is broken down into different groups of works. We have our main stage shows which are the ones that are most fully produced with largely complete production values. We have two plays and one dance theater piece. Then we have what are called ‘musical workshops’ which are performed in the Martel Theater in the Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film,” he said.

He added, “These are what are considered concert readings; they are performers with scripts on their music stands who have also rehearsed extensively. These are works that are intended to be full musical productions but are in an early stage of development.”

With the release of the list of works that the professional team will be performing over the summer, there has been a lot of talk about how the season will play out.

Tom Pacio, the Education Director of the Apprentice Program of the Powerhouse Theater wrote in an emailed statement, “I think the most remarkable thing about the professional season is that these are all new works and they are all at different stages in development.”

The program will work by creating a variety of different stage productions. “Some are being presented as main stage productions, other as workshops, and then there are the readings. The reason for this is that anniversary of the Powerhouse Theater of Vassar College, a they all have something that needs to be learned about them as they progress. The artistic team at New York Stage & Film is wonderful about helping support these projects at their different levels to help those who created them gather the information they need to bring them to the next level,” said Pacio.

Although they will be putting on performances in the same program, the professional and apprentice groups of the Powerhouse summer session will be not be directly working together.

Kosmacher said, “The Powerhouse Training Program is largely separate from the professional productions of the Powerhouse Theater season. There are some opportunities that Powerhouse apprentices have to shadow the cast and crew of the professional productions but they are not in any direct assisting role.”

This year, six Vassar College students will be participating in the Powerhouse Theater Training Program. Two are working as playwrights, and four on the action track; they will be putting on their own shows as apprentices.

Kosmacher said, “The apprentices have their own company, and they have three productions that they’ll be presenting: “Seagull” by Anton Chekhov, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Shakespeare and “Privileged Life of Cats.” [“Privileged Life of Cats”] is a work being developed through a long-time instructor in the training program whose name is Emily Mendelsohn; she’s directing the piece. She has done a great deal of research and residency work in Africa as a theater professional and she has joined forces with a playwright named Margaret Namulyanga on this brand new piece.”

The Vassar College students who are getting the opportunity to participate in this apprentice program are preparing for the learning experience of a lifetime.

Akaina Ghosh ’15, a Vassar student who will be attending the Powerhouse Theater Training Program, wrote in an emailed statement, “I’m really excited to work with NY Stage and Film and to gain more knowledge about how theater companies work in New York.”

Ghosh will have the opportunity to work with artists with similar interests as her.

“As a theater artist my main goal this summer is to find people I would like to work with in the future who are interested in similar projects as myself. I’m very interested in doing devised pieces after I graduate so I would love to find others who would like to do the same. Of course I am also excited to practice new theater techniques with an incredibly talented group of theater artists.”

This year marks the 30th time for many who are involved in the program to reflect upon its accomplishments.

Kosmacher said, “With this being the 30th milestone, because there are few programs in the country that are specifically devoted to developing new works. So, the staying power of Powerhouse is important. We have any number of plays or musicals that were first presented at Powerhouse and they’ve gone on to win Tonys and Pulitzer Prizes. And that’s a very confirming bit of evidence about the value of the Powerhouse program.”

He concluded, “It truly enabled these early works to figure out how to refine themselves and prepared them for the major stages of the country and the world.”

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