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On March 10 the new Advanced Productions class opened a full-scale production, Rumors, the farcical story of a calamitous dinner party of high society New Yorkers. The audience was full of laughs, while the show had witty dialogue and slapstick comedy played to perfection by a cast of very competent comedians.

The story begins with couple Ken and Chris Gorman (Michael Pagee and Harper Wood) panicking as they find their friend Charley Brock (a character that remains unseen and unheard throughout the production) with a gunshot wound to the earlobe on the night of his 10th anniversary dinner party. The Gormans scramble to conceal the situation from the other guests, but as each new arrival comes, the explanations get more and more convoluted and secrets start to spill.

Pagee and Wood played the frazzled duo perfectly, their comedic timing was impeccable as they sped through rapid dialogue, and as the evening wore on their characters only grew more outrageous with the addition of drunkenness and temporary deafness.

Other guests Lenny Ganz (Ian Peterson) and Claire Ganz (Clarissa Maltez) arrive and quickly learn about Charley’s condition. Though they are desperate to help protect their friend from scandal, they also are hungry for gossip, especially Claire, who Maltez made delightfully sassy and fun.

Charming doctor Emma Cusack (Sean Fábrega) and eccentric cook Cookie Cusack (Zoe Schacter-Brodie) join the group soon after and are kept in the dark about the condition of their absent host. Schacter-Brodie’s physical comedy was unparalleled, and every time Cookie had a “back spasm” at some inopportune time the audience was sent into riotous laughter.

The final guests raise the stakes of the elaborate ruse, as campaigning State Senate contender Gwen Cooper (Izzie Nada) and Cassie Cooper (Haley Taylor) join the party, potentially endangering Gwen’s political career by association with what could prove to be a terrible scandal. However the truth comes out eventually, and they too are employed in the task of hiding the truth, this time from the police. Gwen’s logical, if frustrated, manner, played with dry humor expertly done by Nada, was contrasted with the hysterical antics of her wife. Cassie’s melodramatic and petulant behavior was hilarious, and the audience adored Taylor’s theatrical affectations.

At the finale, Lenny, dressed as Charley, tells a story to the cops that is just as unbelievable as it is hilarious, if not ingenious. Peterson’s monologue stood out as the comedic highlight of the show; not only did he deliver the lines with the same intuitive timing and affectations that had distinguished each of his jokes throughout the play, but he punctuated it with uproarious screams, falls, and sprints across the stage. The entire monologue was an impressive six and a half minutes long, and Peterson’s performance was not only a feat of acting, but also endurance.

What made the class’ production even more unique was the fact that it was entirely student run, which is unprecedented in the M-A Drama program. Students directed, designed and built sets, and ran tech in addition to acting.

Said administrator Danette Bathauer Grinstead, “ I actually love stepping back and allowing students to take control of a project. Like any artistic process, theater requires participants to learn through their unique experiences.”

The class decided on Neil Simon’s “Rumors” after “much discussion and friendly debate,” said actor Peterson. After choosing the play, auditions were held. Each member of the class submitted a cast list, and though the final one was decided by Bathauer Grinstead, the technical and directorial roles were self-assigned by the students.

Many people were in jobs they had never held before, and despite initial uncertainty, Peterson said, “after a while of settling in […] everyone found their space and was able to work with each other.” He concluded, “there is no better way to learn how to do something than by being thrown into head first and doing it.”

Directors Emma Denend and Bri Young agreed that the process was not without obstacles, and that it in fact, according to Young, “had some challenges at first” but it was those that made the experience so educational.

Said Denend, “Student-run theatre is so valuable because it not only allows students to create something together, but it also can show people how much students are capable of.”

This production definitely showed how impressive student-run theatre can be, and that sentiment is shared by the class members, who all said they would like to see Advanced Productions put on more full-scale shows in the future.

Bathauer Grinstead said, “the most rewarding aspect of the process for me was to see students acknowledge each one another’s efforts.” She concluded, “I am extremely proud of my students’ final product, and hope that next year students can build upon this years’ experience.”

Advanced Productions provides yet another way for M-A students to participate in the arts, and is especially valuable for for those who cannot commit to a production outside of school hours. It is clear that Advanced Productions can offer students a theatre experience that is on par with other main-stage productions, as exemplified by the cast and crew of “Rumors.”

Bravo, Bears!

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