Department of Drama and Dance to showcase senior capstones

The Granoff Music Center is pictured on May 7, 2014. Nicholas Pfosi / The Tufts Daily Archives

For the Department of Drama and Dance at Tufts, the end of the spring semester marks one of the busiest and most exciting times: the capstones and thesis week, during which seniors majoring or minoring in drama or dance will have the opportunity to showcase their projects.

“Capstone and thesis week is a huge week for us,” Heather Nathans, who is chair of the Department of Drama and Dance and involved in organizing the performances, said. “There will be a total of 16 performances available for people to see that week, including all of the drama capstones and the dance capstones, so it is an incredibly busy week from April 20 to 27.”

There are three drama capstones available to see: “The Merchant of Venice” on April 23, “Lungs” on April 25, and “Dutchman” on April 27, all at 8 p.m. in Balch Arena Theater.

Director Kristin Reeves and James Williamson, both seniors, collaborated on “Dutchman,” which focuses on the interactions between a black man, Clay (played by Williamson) and a white woman, Lula (played by Reeves), on a subway. The production addresses issues of racial tension, according to Williamson.

“It’s such a powerful piece because it just has so much relevance today,” Williamson said. “It deals with a lot of racial hatred and the power dynamics that Lula wields over Clay in their short interaction, and I think also deals with a lot of themes of identity.”

Senior Ben Nissan’s production of “The Merchant of Venice” is a Shakespeare play that deals with issues of anti-Semitism when a merchant from a Christian community, Antonio, clashes with a poor Jewish moneylender, Shylock (played by Nissan).

“‘The Merchant of Venice’ focuses on the clash of two worlds — Venice’s privileged and affluent Christian community and its Jewish ghetto, constrained by centuries of ethnic bias and oppression,” Nissan told the Daily in an email.

Senior Kevin Lombard described the dynamic relationships present in next week’s production of “Lungs.”

“Lungs is a two person play about deciding to have a baby in the context of global warming and environmentalism,” Lombard told the Daily in an email. “It follows M [played by Lombard] and W, and their relationship as it grows and deteriorates, and then grows again. The play uses environmentalism as a theme and metaphor for their relationship, and it’s about the trials and tribulations of two less than perfect people trying to love each other for who they are.”

Lombard also spoke to the unique opportunity theater capstones provide.

“The most exciting part of trying to put together a theater capstone, as an actor, is that you get to perform a role you dream of playing, which is an incredibly rare opportunity for actors,” Lombard said.

According to Nathans and the seniors presenting their capstones, the process of creating a drama capstone spans almost a year. Around October, seniors interested in a capstone have to present their idea to a committee of drama faculty, according to Williamson. Based on time and budget constraints, the project will either be approved or denied. After it gets passed, students have to find a production staff and other actors in order to put up their show in time for capstones week.

According to Nissan, a big obstacle he faced throughout the course of planning his production was getting people on board: not only convincing them that the idea had merit, but also that it was worth their talent and artistic energy. However, he explained that this effort to build a team ended up defining his entire experience.

“The most exciting thing about this project, by far, has been overcoming that obstacle,” Nissan said. “My experience in organizing and working on this project has been defined by collaboration, above all. This production began as a solitary idea, but grew into a two-person brainstorming session, then a 10-person workshop, then a 25-person cast and production staff, to what will soon be a show to be shared with as many people as we can get to see it.”

In the dance program, doing a capstone is required for the minor. Students in the dance minor will showcase their projects over four shows with two different programs; one will be showing April 20 at 7 p.m. and April 22 at 2 p.m., while the other will be April 21 at 7 p.m. and April 22 at 5 p.m., all in Jackson Dance Lab.

“This is the largest spring graduating dance minor class that we’ve ever had at Tufts, and there are 13 of them,” Director of the Tufts Dance Program Renata Celichowska said. “So it’s very exciting.”

The 13 dance capstones vary in content — some are original choreographed pieces, while others focus on the performance of a pre-choreographed piece. According to Celichowska, one student is even presenting a film that features dance, and another is presenting a math and dance curriculum for fourth graders that she created for her capstone. As with drama capstones, planning begins well before the performance, usually during junior spring. Months of work and dedication go into crafting a performance to showcase by the end of senior year.

“I was telling all our students like they have no right to be doing the quality of work that they’re doing,” Celichowska said. “It’s like they’re majors. I’ve seen graduate students in major programs doing equal work to what these students are doing. They’re matching them.”

The seniors and organizers of the capstone and thesis week stressed how laborious the process of doing a capstone is.

“With a capstone, you’ve been sort of eating, drinking, breathing with this show probably for over a year, in term of ideas that you were working on,” Nathans said. “So to see something that’s been living with you that long get realized, that’s a really intense process.”

Celichowska also spoke to the intense but also rewarding nature of the dance capstones.

“These are completely original premieres,” Celichowska said. “The entire concert, no one will have ever seen before. It’s not a script that was existing, it’s not a score that was existing, it’s not even a dance repertory that was existing … This is fresh, it’s this generation, which I find completely exciting.”

For more information on showtimes, visit the Tufts Department of Drama and Dance website.