Category Archives: Theater

The Tempest Brews at Swarthmore College

Emily Kennedy, a junior from Portland, Oregon, wasn’t planning on being a stage manager this semester.  She had already stage managed three shows at Swarthmore thus far, and as a Political Science Major with Environmental Studies and Math minors who is also pre-med and going abroad next semester, she had plenty of reason to take a break this spring and focus on academics and other extracurricular pursuits.

But when senior honors Theater major Wesley Han asked her to run their upcoming production of The Tempest, she found herself unable to turn down the “crazy” opportunity.  Kennedy knew Han from previous plays, in which at least one of them was acting, and had also seen their work as the director of last fall’s Senior Company production of HIR.  She describes Han as “such an incredible artist” and the chance to work with them as a stage-manager/director team on a show this ambitious she felt was not one to be missed.

A major part of what sets Han’s Tempest apart from Swarthmore’s usual theater offerings is that dance and music play an integral role throughout.  This makes sense considering their background as a cellist and pianist, whose drama experience during high school consisted almost exclusively of acting, singing, and dancing in musicals.  It’s true that here at Swarthmore, Han “got used to doing straight theater” and even learned to appreciate “how much more room for substance there is when you’re not stopping every five minutes to spontaneously burst into song.”  But after a very substantial and emotionally charged directing capstone last semester in the form of HIR, which involved just four actors and explored family politics with a queer twist, Han is returning to a much more dance- and sound-oriented production this spring with The Tempest.

The whole idea of doing this show originated in large part in the desire to incorporate dance into Han’s theater work, and Shakespeare provided a natural starting point. “So much of [a Shakespeare story] needs to be told nonverbally,” Han says, since “a lot of the language isn’t accessible today.”  And when dance minor Jenny Gao ’18 planted the seed of potentially collaborating, they immediately thought that her background and movement style would make her a good fit for the role of Ariel in The Tempest; in this production, Ariel isn’t just “some dude in a costume covered in feathers who just moves around like a person,” but rather a fully embodied spirit, with a cadre of lesser spirits to do her bidding.

In charge of choreographing most of the movement for that spirit ensemble is Louisa Carman ’21.  Carman, a prospective Political Science major with minors in Spanish and Dance, brings to this project a wealth of dance experience applied in new ways.  In high school, she studied ballet, jazz, tap, and hip-hop, and performed with Chicago’s Evanston Dance Ensemble in several of their large story-based productions, such as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Alice in Wonderland.  Through Evanston, she also gained some experience creating her own work, but hadn’t yet combined the two skills—choreographing and storytelling—in a deliberate way until The Tempest.  This combination proved initially difficult, as Carman says “it was a challenge for me to choreograph with the mindset that every element…has a role in advancing the story and adding to the overall atmosphere of the scene.”  She has had throughout the process to balance the worth of her movement for its own sake with how well it contributes to the overall theatrical production.

Sound designer Oliver Lipton ’18 has found himself adjusting to that balance, as well.  Lipton composed most of the show’s soundtrack as an honors thesis for his major in Theater, and while he had previously produced a radioplay called What We Fear as an independent study, this is his first experience creating sound for live theater or dance.  There’s a lot to explore, as not only is he providing the precise cues referred to or suggested by the script, but also the more extensive and rhythmically structured music for dance. Since Ariel in this production doesn’t speak onstage, he’s also responsible for manipulating recordings of Ariel’s voice to stand in for live lines.  All of these have to fit into a coherent soundscape that suggests the particular atmosphere and dynamics of one island, which Lipton decided was a mix of electronic and acoustic sound (dancer Gabriela Brown and Han play flute and cello, respectively, in several of his compositions).  He says that within that general auditory framework, “designing sounds in such a way that they work for the rest of the elements at play has been very interesting.”

Despite the challenges and compromises inherent in crafting all the factors involved in a production of this scope into a harmonious whole, having so many minds in the mix is ultimately quite rewarding.  Carman, for one, says her favorite part of choreographing for the show has been “working with other creative people,” and that she has “learned so much about the decisions that happen behind the scenes for a production like this one.”  Stage manager Kennedy, who gets to follow the whole arc of the project from before auditions to closing night, definitely agrees.  She loves facilitating and watching as “a bunch of people come together to make something cool.” And The Tempest is shaping up to be something cool, indeed.

The Tempest will be showing in the LPAC Frear Ensemble Theater Friday, March 30th at 8pm, Saturday, March 31st at 2pm and 8pm, and Sunday, April 1st at 2pm.

Lydia Roe ’20

Shira Samuels-Shragg as Musical Director of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

From November 10-12th, a group of Swarthmore students will perform The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, a musical comedy by William Finn. The musical made its Broadway debut in 2005 to widespread critical acclaim, winning a Tony Award and several Drama Desk Awards.

Swarthmore’s production falls under the musical direction of Shira Samuels-Shragg ‘20, a sophomore with a rich musical history and a preternatural gift for conducting, who also loves to dance. Samuels-Shragg grew up in a musical household, listening to classical music and attending concerts with her family. She began playing piano at a very young age and picked up the viola soon after, but it was in eighth grade that she discovered her love for conducting. She had been working on a project called “Women in Conducting,” and the orchestra director at her school allowed her to continue studying the craft. “There was an ‘aha’ moment where I realized conducting combined my three favorite things: music, dance, and being in charge.” Thus began a fruitful career in orchestral conducting. In 2015, Samuels-Shragg was selected to be one of two inaugural conducting apprentices with Carnegie Hall’s National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America. The following year she became the first high schooler to be selected as a conducting intern with the Los Angeles Youth Orchestra. In the fall of 2017 she conducted part of a concert with Chamber Orchestra First Editions, “a professional ensemble that combines new works with early Mozart.” She currently helps conduct the Swarthmore College Lab Orchestra as part of her studies with Lecturer Andrew Hauze.

Despite working more than 20 hours per week on the production, Samuels-Shragg says directing The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee has been immensely rewarding. In addition to working with the actors, she says that collaborating with the pit musicians has been especially fulfilling: “We have an all-star team of musicians and they’re cooperative and patient with me. Conducting for theater can be very different from classical orchestral conducting, so it’s been a joy being surrounded by supportive musicians as I figure out what works and what doesn’t.” Although her experience has primarily been in classical orchestral conducting, she says that she has always had a love for musical theater, and that working on this production has reaffirmed her desire to work at least partially in show business. “After Swat I’m planning on going to grad school and then pursuing a career in conducting, so I’m hoping I can find a professional balance between the orchestral and theater worlds.”

Her love for this production is clear: “I’m deeply grateful to be part of this project. It’s been an insane semester of rehearsals, but I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. We’ve poured so much of ourselves into this show, and I’m proud of the result.”

The November 10th show will be held at 8pm. On November 11th there will be two shows, at 2pm and at 8pm. The last show, on November 12th, will begin at 2pm.

                                                                               Gabriel Hearns-Desautels ’20

Pig Iron Theatre Company’s A Period of Animate Existence

On September 14th, the Pig Iron Theatre Company will host a semi-staged concert of their newest original work, A Period of Animate Existence. The performance will begin at 7pm in The Lang Performing Arts Center. It is free and open to the public.

Pig Iron Theatre Company describe themselves as an “interdisciplinary ensemble” that is “dedicated to the creation of new and exuberant performance works that defy easy categorization.” Their pieces combine the versatility and originality of performance art with more traditional elements of theater, such as music and dance. They have created more than 30 original works that tackle a range of topics, from sleep, dreams, and consciousness (Shut Eye), to a child’s struggle to accept contingency and fantasy after the Fukushima nuclear disaster (Zero Cost House). While their works do span many different subjects, they all attempt to answer many of life’s difficult questions. A Period of Animate Existence is no exception.

Their newest work offers a meditative examination of life during the Sixth Extinction, a period that will see the death of 20-50% of all life on earth. The company grapples with what lies ahead after such an era, exploring questions of existence and the effects of time. While this may sound abstract, Swarthmore Music Professor Barbara Milewski contends that the work is a “direct attempt to engage audiences with fundamental questions about what it means to be human and what our place is on this planet.” The performance puts children, elders, and machines in dialogue with one another to create what Professor Milewski calls a “multi-generational” exchange, “trying, if you will, to engage conversations among the generations to see how we might all be viewing the same urgent issue of our time.”

Founder/Co-Artistic Director Dan Rothenberg ‘95 collaborated with contemporary composer Troy Herion and set designer/recent MacArthur “Genius” Award winner Mimi Lien to create this new piece. The addition of Herion to the creative team is sure to make A Period of Animate Existenceone of Pig Iron’s most musically inventive works to date. Herion composes in an immense range of musical styles, from classical orchestral compositions to electronic scores that stretch the boundaries of contemporary music. Much of his work focuses on “visual music,” a concept that will merge organically with Pig Iron’s own unique approach to theater. Mr. Herion will be giving a master class on “Visual-Music” at Swarthmore on Tuesday, September 12th, from 4-6pm in the Lang Concert Hall.

Given their dynamism and creativity as an ensemble, the Pig Iron Theatre Company seems uniquely situated to take on these questions. Being an interdisciplinary group gives them the ability to adapt in interesting ways to the work they take on. A Period of Animate Existence is sure to employ new and inventive methods in answering some of the toughest questions that face us today.

Gabriel Hearn-Desautels ’20

Erica Janko ’17 performs at 2016 Philly FringeArts!

janko2016forwebThe Performers
Choreographed and Directed
by Erica Janko ’17
Saturday, September 24 
University City Arts League
4226 Spruce Street Philadelphia, PA 19104
Tickets $7 or $5 for students/25-and-under

First rule of performing: no one knows what’s going on, but I know what I’m supposed to do. The performance is in progress. The performance is now. Includes movement, projection, discussion, and maybe even dancing.

Live electronic music by Nirvaan Ranganathan. The performers will be there. Let’s see what happens.

Dido & Aeneas by Henry Purcell (4/24 + 4/25 @ 7:30PM)

The Department of Music and Dance presents a fully staged production of Henry Purcell’s Didoforwebminiature operatic masterpiece, DIDO AND AENEAS, featuring an all-student cast and members of the Swarthmore College Orchestra. Stage Direction by Patrick Ross ’15; Musical Direction by Andrew Hauze ’04; Choreography by Assistant Professor of Dance Olivia Sabee; Costumes by Tara Webb ’94; Choral Direction by Joseph Gregorio; Musical Preparation by Debra Scurto-Davis; Assistant Musical Direction by J. Andrew Kim ’18; Stage Management by Aaron Slepoi ’17.

Lang Concert Hall
Sun April 24 at 7:30PM
Mon April 25 at 7:30PM

Free and open to the public without reservation. More info: 610-957-6159.

Stravinsky’s SOLDIER AND OTHER TALES (4/2 @ 8PM)


Orchestra 2001, the Department of Music and Dance and the Department of Theater present

Saturday, April 2, 2016
8:00 PM
Lang Concert Hall, Swarthmore College

Swarthmore’s contemporary ensemble-in-residence Orchestra 2001 teams up with students and faculty from Swarthmore’s Departments of Theater and Music & Dance to present a fully staged version of Stravinsky’s 1918 masterpiece L’histoire du soldat.  Directed by Eileen Hou ’16, the production features a corps of dancers and actors from Swarthmore’s performing arts departments and Orchestra 2001 conducted by Lecturer in Music Andrew Hauze ’04. The program also features the world premieres of works for the L’histoire septet by Swarthmore alum Jeremy Rapaport-Stein ’14 and current students Nathan Scalise and Zachary Tanner.  The program opens with a curtain-raiser called The Soldier Dances, a new potpourri of popular dances from the 1910’s by the African-American composer James Reese Europe, arranged especially for this concert.

Starring: Kenny Bransdorf, John Baek, Wesley Han, Molly Murphy, Isabel Clay, Andy Lee, Cathy Kandrysawtz, Hunter Lee, Victoria Hou, Prairie Wentworth-Nice

Director and Choreographer: Eileen Hou; Music Director: Andrew Hauze; Stage Manager: Aaron Slepoi; Media Designer: Aaron Jackson; Costume Designer: Raven Bennet; Lighting Designer: James Murphy; Props Managers: Juhyae Kim, Marta Roncada; Faculty Advisors: Sharon Friedler, Allen Kuharski, Laila Swanson, Tara Webb

THE ROYAL SINGER: A New Children’s Opera (5/3 @ 7PM in Lang Concert Hall)

The Swarthmore College Sesquicentennial Committee is proud to presentROYAL SINGER poster
The Royal Singer: A New Children’s Opera

Join our dancers and musicians for a production of The Royal Singer, a new opera for children, made possible by Maurice Eldridge and the Sesquicentennial committee. With score by Professor Thomas Whitman, libretto by Professor Nathalie Anderson, and direction by Professor K. Elizabeth Stevens, this original opera transports the audience to a magical kingdom in search of a new Royal Singer. As animals and dolls gear up for a musical competition, they learn that the best harmonies come from working (and playing) together. Bring the family and witness the world-premiere of this very special new opera. This production is the result of a collaborative effort by five different academic departments at Swarthmore College and features performances by Swarthmore students and by children from Stetser Elementary School in Chester.

Sunday, May 3, 2015
7:00 PM
Swarthmore College
Lang Music Building
Lang Concert Hall

Free and open to the public; no tickets or reservations required.
For more information contact Andrew Hauze at
610-690-3489 or

“GET ON YOUR FEET” a workshop for organizing peaceful protest with George Lakey

When: Thursday, 2/26, 7 p.m.

Where: Lang Center/Keith Room

George Lakey’s workshop is the final event in the RADICAL DEMOCRACY AND HUMANISM residency sponsored by the William J. Cooper Foundation. The workshop will offer attendees some models for organizing and information regarding preparation for peaceful protest. What questions is it important to answer, individually and as a group, regarding purpose and practice? What tools for action are useful to groups in differing situations? What models from past and current movements can be adapted to a variety of purposes? In this session, George Lakey will show that you *can* go beyond the boring limits of choosing between a march or a rally by coming to this workshop and learning about:
– action logic
– edgy actions
– using actions leadership development
– maximizing the empowerment potential of the actions you design
– one-offs vs. campaigns.

The workshop includes question time on the use of nonviolent direct action compared with other techniques for social change.

George Lakey’s first arrest was in the ‘sixties for a civil rights sit-in; in 2013 he was arrested in a protest against mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia. He co-founded a number of social change groups including Movement for a New Society, the Pennsylvania Jobs with Peace Campaign, Men Against Patriarchy, Training for Change, and Earth Quaker Action Team. He has led over 1500 social change workshops on five continents, for a wide variety of groups including homeless people, prisoners, Russian lesbians and gays, Sri Lankan monks, Burmese guerrilla soldiers, striking steel workers, South African activists, Canadian academics, and leaders of indigenous peoples brought together by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research in Geneva.