SPOTLIGHT ON: AQ THEATRE
The first weekend in October, on a crisp fall evening, Aquinas College Theatre Program Director, Randy Wyatt viewed the last performance of his fall show, Life is a Dream. The play, which boasts many humorous elements in addition to its underlying message about the perception of illusion and reality, was met with roaring applause and smiling faces at the final curtain call. Originally composed in 17th century Spain by Calderon de la Barca, Life is a Dream was adapted and published for a modern audience by Nilo Cruz in 2008. This unique piece demonstrated the broad range of emotions of the actors as well as the diversity of Aquinas Theatre.
Passion, in addition to the spot-on lighting, well-rehearsed actors, and brilliant costumes, was a key aspect of this performance and many others at Aquinas. Dedicated professors and students alike contribute to a successful program which continues to impress the student body and the community with unique and modern productions year after year.
Wyatt is both a professor and playwright who earned his master of fine arts in theatre direction from Minnesota State University in Mankato. With sixteen years of directing experience in West Michigan, Wyatt inspires his students to develop new and exciting forms of theatre. “My passion is the development of new work…” he says, and clearly exhibited his enthusiasm in the newly adapted and unique play, Life is a Dream.
In lieu of focusing solely on traditional productions, Wyatt encourages the department to take on contemporary projects that enable his students to develop new skills and personas. These productions, in addition to challenging theatre majors with complex dialogue and current themes, provide for the community a unique and viable entertainment source that is unmatched in the city of Grand Rapids. “Most other programs boast of doing a new work once every couple of years, while we are constantly bringing new plays and musicals to the AQ stage,” remarks Wyatt.
The Aquinas Theatre Program, in addition to providing live entertainment for the community, also offers theatre students a hands-on experience which guides them through on-stage and technical development. Liene Strautnieks, theatre major and senior at Aquinas, described her time on the stage and in the classroom as yielding constant growth through hard work and new experiences.
In her remarks about Wyatt and Deborah Keller, adjunct assistant professor, Strautnieks said, “[They] are the most talented and amazing individuals in theatre that I have ever met.” The ingenuity and talent of the professors in the department, she believes, is essential to the success of each production and the growth of each student. “They will make you work," Strautnieks said. She smiles and elaborates that through their dedication she has earned a useful education that will further her career.
Strautnieks first became familiar with Aquinas through a Circle Theatre performance during high school. Though her initial decision to attend the College was based on a familiarity with the performance space as well as the Grand Rapids area, she became entranced with the theatre program’s variety of performances. This, along with Wyatt’s close analysis of each script, has enabled her to find something new and different in each character she plays. Impressed with the program and passionate about her future career, Strautnieks states with conviction, “I’m so confident that I’m going to be able to go somewhere in the future.”
Strautnieks’ confidence in the theatre program is not surprising considering the impressive showing made by Aquinas College each year at the Grand Awards. The Grand Awards, Grand Rapids’ annual awards ceremony for the local theatre community, highlights actors, directors, and backstage personnel in four categories: plays, musicals, technical, and college performances. For the 2009/2010 season, Aquinas snagged six nominations in the college category including two nominations for best director, two nominations for best supporting actor, and one nomination each for best actress and best show. These notable nods, as well as this year’s winner of Best Supporting Actor, Julian Kratchovil, for Any Other Name, demonstrate Aquinas’ relevance in the community as well as the student talent fostered by the theatre program.
The next performance from Aquinas Theatre furthers the tradition of the hip and contemporary with Nevermore, a musical about the life of Edgar Allen Poe. Although many of the events in the life of Poe may be considered too risqué for the stage, AQ theater does not hesitate to attempt the new and exciting. In this production, the department will also rearrange the set of the performance space itself to take place in the round, creating a unique vantage point for the audience and a challenging new perspective for the performers.
Aquinas Theatre, through its dedicated professors, talented performers, and consistently modern productions, creates for Aquinas students and the Grand Rapids community a unique brand of entertainment that is both locally and nationally relevant. For theatre majors, the program provides an atmosphere that fosters hard work and skill development, while exposing students to new and interesting productions. “…it makes theatre vital again…” says Wyatt, of the creative freedom he has at Aquinas to push the limits of live performance, instead of merely reciting the classics. The 2010/2011 season, which already boasts an impressive performance with Life is a Dream, promises another year of eye-opening productions, humorous lines, and talented performers that are sure to impress.
To learn more about the academic offerings of the theater department as well as upcoming auditions, performances, and ticket prices, visit the Theatre program website.