Lighting the Lights, Hitting New Heights

Diverse and Active Theatre Program Engages Students and the Community Year-round

In November 2009, WPI’s Little Theatre was transformed into a stark, unsettling world as the Department of Humanities and Arts and Masque, one of the Institute’s oldest student organizations, mounted a riveting production of The Crucible, Arthur Miller’s gripping allegorical drama based on the Salem Witch Trials.

The production showcased the talents of dozens of students and other community members--on stage and behind the scenes. It also demonstrated the role that theatre plays in enriching student life at WPI and engaging students deeply in artistic and humanistic pursuits that expand their understanding of the world and themselves.

The Crucible is just one highlight of a crowded calendar of performances that bring live theatre to the WPI and greater Worcester communities throughout the year. In addition to annual fall and spring productions by Masque and the Humanities and Arts Department, that line-up includes

  • New Voices, the nation's longest continuously running collegiate new plays festival. This year’s festival, which runs April 14-17, will feature nine original plays written by students, alumni, and faculty. Over its 28 year run, the ambitious festival has engaged hundreds of students as directors, dramaturgs, actors, designers, and crew members.
  • two or more productions by M.W. Repertory Theatre Company, a student-run theatre group. This year’s shows were Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire, an evening of one-act plays, and Rabbit Hole, a Pulitzer Prize-winning drama by David Lindsay-Abaire.
  • a work of musical theatre and an annual cabaret produced by Vox, another student-run company. Recent productions have included Sweeney Todd, The Mikado, Threepenny Opera , and South Pacific.
  • the annual Show in 24 Hours, a production of short plays entirely produced and performed in one day by members of WPI’s Theatre Honor Society, Alpha Psi Omega.
  • a summer theatre production by Sunburns Theatre Co.
  • a host of performances and multimedia productions by Student Comedy Productions, which currently includes three improvisational comedy troupes.

Theatre at WPI goes well beyond these events. Many WPI students take advantage of the university’s robust academic theatre offerings, which include several theatre courses that let students “grapple with the written word beyond the confines of the printed page,” says Susan Vick, professor of drama/theatre and director of theatre programs. Students may also complete a theatre minor (a popular option) or a theatre major. Theatre is also one of the tracks students may pursue as they complete their Humanities and Arts Requirement. Students study dramatic literature, theatre performance, and production.

For students who study theatre at WPI, the Little Theatre and the productions it hosts provide a laboratory where students can put the theory of drama into practice through project work and practicums. The theater, which opened in 2005 as WPI’s first dedicated theatre facility, is an intimate, flexible space outfitted with up-to-date sound and lighting equipment, a scene shop, and dressing rooms.

As impressive as the panoply of productions that take to the Little Theatre stage each year is the broad range of students who participate in theatre at WPI, Vick says. “Our theatre program is unusual because it spans so many student affiliations, something you would not see at many other schools. 'There’s always that person in an area you wouldn’t expect who wants to participate. Here it’s legitimate. You can do it. Everybody has a place at our table.”

March 9, 2010

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