By late May, the Vassar Campus is just a fond memory for most, a place to recall and reminisce over. Many students’ curtain calls for the semester entail bidding adieu to their home away from home, and a relocation to wherever summer takes them. With some students choosing to cross over state lines, or international borders, a distant summer may feel alluring. However, the Powerhouse Theater’s summer season attracts people from across the country to our very own campus every year, a testament to the truly amazing work happening right in our own backyard.
The Powerhouse Theater’s summer season runs for five weeks a year, and its training program gives accepted students the opportunity to work collaboratively on theatrical projects, attend related classes, interact with professionals in the field and form lasting connections within the industry for the future. The program typically involves being part of a predetermined group of productions, as well as putting on a collection of six shorter, entirely student-prepared productions at the end of the session. The Powerhouse Theater often also partners with theater groups throughout the country, allowing for students to work alongside, and ask questions of, prolific theatrical talents. Essentially, students have a unique chance to develop and grow their craft in a highly focused and creative environment, filled with peers and professionals alike.
This summer, the Powerhouse’s summer season ran from June 26 through July 31, marking its return to the scene after a two-year break due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, any doubts of potential rustiness were quickly cast away given the seamless transition back into the program, as displayed by all 38 of the students involved. Producing Director Ed Cheetham acknowledged, “I know it wasn’t easy. Their days are long, and it gets tough. But I think they really forged through and did some tremendous, tremendous work.” And what did these performances entail? A lot of hard work, dedication and commitment that yielded a set of diverse, but equally high-quality, productions.
This Powerhouse’s summer slate consisted of productions put on by the theater itself, as well as those done through its training program. Those of the latter variety included partnerships with the theater group NY Stage and Film company, featuring the likes of Andre Braugher (of “Brooklyn-Nine-Nine” fame). The Powerhouse and NY Stage and Film organized three different plays to be performed: “The World is not Silent,” “Sweet Chariot,” and “Tell Them I’m Still Young,” about which Nina Ajemian ’23 [DISCLAIMER: Ajemian is the Managing Editor for The Miscellany News] said, “The energy that the actors brought to the show was amazing–the show was so full of life and immersive.”
On the theater’s lineup for this session as a whole, Cheetham described, “It was a good amount of work to present over the course of five weeks. Even though it was less [productions than previous years], it’s still the same amount of work that goes into it.” Echoing Cheetham’s emphasis on continuous workshopping, Ajemian recalled, “There was no full set, some props were imaginary, and they had changed and re-written lines up until the day before. But that’s what made it so interesting.”
The students of the training program organized and performed productions of their own as well, including “The Tempest” and “Trojan Women,” as well as writing, directing and acting in a series of six short plays at the end of the session. Students of the program also attended weekly Q&As with partnered professionals in the field, including actress and writer Christa Kimlicko Jones, set to take on a theatrical adaptation of “Anna Karenina.” Being a part of these productions and interactions with fellow creatives in the field makes for invaluable experiences and contributes to making a space conducive to creativity, as Cheetham echoed. “No one is going to test you, no one is going to ask you to write a paper,” he said. “You are just there to make theater happen, and learn about theater, and take classes.”
As a whole, this summer session, while with less performances, a smaller cohort of students, and with the initial uneasiness of ramping up production again after a two-year hiatus, remained true to the overarching goals and principles of Powerhouse. This space and this program mean something special to a lot of people. It means living in an environment devoted to your passion. It means not needing to worry about extraneous, but very real, concerns like making the trek home after a long day of practice, or renting ever sought-after rehearsal spaces. Above all, it means making and keeping connections with people whom you will be forever linked with, people who may one day be your co-author, screenwriter or director. And the results of this space, its products, are real and tangible. To conclude our interview, Ed Cheetham left me with a resounding message: “I think Vassar’s contribution to American theater over the past 35 years is incalculable… It’s valuable, and people need it.” After yet another successful installment of a program running for years, Cheetham hopes to build upon this momentum for encore performances every summer in the foreseeable future.