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February 7, 2005

Theater Arts Department establishes new student-run production company

By Scott Rappaport

The UCSC Theater Arts Department has established a new student-run production company to help ease the transition for undergraduates from academia to the professional theater world.

Photo: Leah Gardner, Mike McCann

Graduate students Leah Gardner (artistic director) and Mike McCann (managing director) are guiding UCSC’s new student-run theater company through its first year.
Photo: Scott Rappaport

Named “Barnstorm” because of its home base in the Barn Theater at the foot of the campus, it has been created as a model of a small professional theater company—completely organized and managed by students. Participants receive five units of academic credit and must put in a minimum of 150 hours each quarter working in one particular area such as an actor, director, publicist, or set designer.

“Barnstorm allows the students to run their own theater company in the Barn,” noted Danny Scheie, chair of the Theater Arts Department. “It gives the students a chance to have a legitimate avant-garde theater and run it how they want—the dream of every artist on the Lower East Side, but a financial impossibility for artists in the real world.”

Now in its second quarter, Barnstorm is still a work-in-progress. During its premier quarter last fall, the company presented two productions of previously published works (Revenge of the Space Pandas by David Mamet and Fat Men in Skirts by Nicky Silver), plus three staged readings of original student work, and a variety of short-run performances that included improvisational comedy and live-action episodes of television shows.

“We teach students how to be professional practitioners,” observed Mike McCann, the company’s managing director and a UCSC graduate student in theater arts. “We give students an opportunity to see what life would be like in an actual company where there’s an artistic director, a marketing team, a technical director, and various other positions."

McCann said the goal during this first year is to create the framework of the company and have three productions running in repertory by spring quarter.

“We’re thinking on a company level instead of just looking at one specific show,” he explained. “For example, the marketing people must learn to consistently look ahead to promote future shows in repertory. And the set designers need to build in such a way that a set can be easily removed for the comedy group that will come in afterward.”

Barnstorm hosts a number of workshops such as 24/7, where students have just 24 hours to conceive, write, rehearse, and perform a seven-minute play—the event begins at 9 p.m. on a Saturday night and the plays are all performed by 9 p.m. on Sunday. It also presents weekly Syndication/Vindication nights, offering Santa Cruz-based soap operas such as 90210 in 95064 and All My Kresge Children. A revolving team of writers create the episodes, and the directors change every week. “We were turning people away by the end of last quarter,” McCann noted.

Although some students have been able to take advantage of the proximity of Shakespeare Santa Cruz (SSC)—the professional theater company housed at UCSC—positions available to students have generally been limited by the very fact that SSC is a professional company. Students also must currently compete for a limited number of spots to present original productions through the Theater Arts Department.

“Barnstorm is filling a huge need,” noted Leah Gardner, Barnstorm’s artistic director and also a UCSC theater arts graduate student. “We have at least two or three events every week. And I would say that probably 25 out of 30 days in any month there’s something going on in the Barn—whether a performance or a rehearsal of a production. There are so many students who want their voices to be heard and their art to be seen.”

Gardner added that another goal of Barnstorm is to help build bridges between theater arts and other departments in the UCSC Arts Division.

“We would like to have art students use the lobby of the Barn Theater as a gallery space, have film students show their short films, and have music students write themes for the soap operas or songs for a musical,” Gardner said. “We ultimately want to make the Barn available for all students, not just those in theater arts.”

For more information about Barnstorm, call (831) 459-4001 or e-mail barnstorm@ucsc.edu.


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