Performance Collaborative brings student productions to life


Image courtesy of Performance Collaborative

Performance Collaborative is a student-run club in the University’s theater department that focuses on promoting student-created work.

By Matthew Monroy, Senior Staff Writer

This year’s University of Pittsburgh Mainstage lineup is filled with award-winning writers and highly lauded works. A Broadway musical from a Tony Award-winning writer and a play from a Pulitzer Prize finalist playwright fill out the impressive schedule. But what you won’t find in that list are small plays and musicals written, directed, composed and staged by an entirely student-run crew.

This is more the work of The Performance Collaborative, a student-run club in the University’s Theatre Arts department. Launched in 2011, the club focuses on promoting student-created and lesser-known work through a variety of workshops and festivals.

Emily Rothermel, a sophomore majoring in nonfiction writing, serves as the chair of PC and said the organization is an avenue for showcasing diverse works of all types.

“We’ve opened up more of a platform for student’s works to be performed,” she said. “Those things are harder to get done by the department because they’re busy with so many other projects.”

The Performance Collaborative upholds this vision with events like 20/40, held each year during orientation week. Instead of being produced like a typical Mainstage production with one show, 20/40 is a collection of 20 student-written short plays — all of which are done in 40 minutes. The event mostly uses older plays written by theater department members that the PC keeps in their repertoire.

One sketch describes the colorful struggle of navigating your way around South Oakland parties to the tune of the popular kid’s song “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt.” Cal Behr, a sophomore theater major who serves PC as the vice chair and creative lead for 20/40 said the event is a fun way to introduce new students to the theater department.

“It’s a nice little way for students who come to Pitt and have just arrived to get a sense of what it’s about,” Behr said.

For students who may want to grow even more involved with the theater department, the PC’s Playwriting Festival allows students the opportunity to submit their own plays for judging. Now in its fifth year, the festival accepts an unlimited amount of submissions, but only three are chosen by a panel of judges for the festival. The three plays are assigned a director and staged in front of an audience at the Playwriting Festival, which is typically held in the first couple weeks of January.

The winner of the Playwriting Festival is chosen based on a combination of audience and judge votes. The winning play is then given a full production budget and staged the following school year, complete with a director, full cast, props and costumes. This year’s winning play was “Daylily” by Cassie Maz. The runner-ups were “Saag Paneer” by Samir Yellapragada and “Signs” by Kayla Bradley.

Last year’s winner was a one-act musical called “Storied,” written by now-Pitt graduate Mohit Patel. The musical centers on the Greek gods Apollo and Dionysus as they try to put on an original show together. PC composed the music to accompany Patel’s lyrics over the summer and gathered a group of musicians to play for the show.

For Josee Coyle, a junior majoring in theater and psychology, interacting with more experimental theater with PC through the Playwriting Festival has pushed her to expand her artistic boundaries. She said the process of directing an extremely abstract show at last year’s Playwriting Festival was difficult, but rewarding.

“There were puppets, there were 35 characters and 5 actors — it was a crazy piece,” Coyle said. “But it was really, really fun and really good and encouraged me to push myself and expand.”

Rothermel’s mission this year has been to increase the schedule of events CP offers beyond the traditional year-to-year happenings. One planned event — the upcoming “New Works Showcase” — has Rothermel extremely excited.

 Described as a “fringe festival” — an event featuring experimental and atypical performances — the showcase in March won’t be limited to just plays or musicals. The event will be centered on the theme of “Forgetting/Remembering” and open to any type of creative performance. Rothermel said she hopes to make this event an intersection of music, theater and spoken word.

“We’re gonna invite bands, dance groups, slam poets — areas and communities that have crossover with performance art but don’t necessarily interact with the theater department all that much,” Rothermel said.

For Rothermel, this event has been a goal of hers for a long time. In high school, she was an assistant stage manager for the Reading Theater Project, where the 5-Minute Fringe Festival is a popular event.

“I’ve wanted to bring something like this to the theater department ever since I arrived on campus my freshman year,” Rothermel said. “It’s why I ran for the board of PC, because I knew that this club would be the right platform to produce something like this.”

The Performance Collaborative has continued its new events with Play Clubs, a twice monthly event designed to increase student’s awareness of lesser-known plays. The first Play Club took place last Wednesday and saw PC members reading from “The Little Match Girl,” a Japanese play adaption of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale. Anyone who was at the event was welcome to read from the play as one of the characters, and after they discussed the play and what its abstract characters and vague storyline could mean. It’s this kind of unrecognized theater that Rothermel said the club seeks to promote.

“We definitely have a focus on works that aren’t as well-known or new and emerging works,” Rothermel said. “Our two goals would definitely be exposure and education.”

And the process of educating newcomers isn’t limited to just PC’s audience. Behr said that his work in curating pieces for PC has made him more conscious of lesser-known theater that still fits the club’s mission.

“It’s been a great experience for me to try to find things that it I think people will enjoy while also staying true to what our club is,” Behr said. “And it has been difficult at times, but I think that we’ve found our footing and are gonna grow exponentially from here.”