April 2018 – It was an intense six months for the 16 Drew University students who participated in the inaugural Semester on New York Theatre in which they wrote, produced and staged an original production called 4320p: Immersion. The play was performed on campus in March after a three-day run at the American Theatre of Actors on West 54th Street in Manhattan.
From the onset, the students worked with mentors from Tectonic Theater Project—a pioneer in the “devised theatre” technique in which productions are created with writers, actors, producers and technical crew working together from the outset as opposed to the traditional layered approach where others come in later to animate a written script.
Immersion is set 15 years into the future as a media conglomerate gobbles up platforms on the internet and contestants in a virtual reality show called Are They EDGY Enough? vie for access those platforms, often becoming desensitized along the way. The students who created the play said they wanted to grapple with themes of identity and social media that preoccupy their generation. Here are five takes on the experience.
Favorite moment: “Collaborating together on an intense level. We were all working together to serve the play.”
What a mentor taught you: To step back and look at the bigger picture.
Biggest takeaway: “Hard work and dedication really pay off. None of us knew what we were in for when we signed up for the inaugural (theatre) semester in New York. There were so many moving parts.”
Favorite moment: “I liked wearing all the hats required of a dramaturg.”
What a mentor taught you: A sense of professionalism borne of experience
Biggest takeaway: “Working and developing this show has shown me the power that theatre has in working out our anxieties and hopes . . . it’s really cathartic.”
Favorite moment: “Coming together as a company before each show and taking the moment to remind each other how far we’ve come. We’re all so supportive of each other and it’s great to have that relationship with the people you interact with on stage and off.”
What a mentor taught you: “We all had professors Lisa Brenner and Chris Ceraso, Scott Barrow and Barbara Pitts McAdams. The biggest tip they all gave us was to have fun and to believe in ourselves. For me personally, Barb taught me to trust myself and to accept that there will always be improvement in our work even if we feel comfortable.”
Biggest takeaway: “Take risks. It’s important to trust yourself and when taking risks, the outcome may be exactly what you thought or not at all—and that’s the coolest thing ever.”
Favorite moment: “I found moment work to be very enlightening. The text was not the driving force, it was all about the people in the room.”
What a mentor taught you: “To be big and large and go full force.”
Biggest takeaway: “This process allowed me to be open to a lot of things . . . and flexible.”
Favorite Moment: “When it was 16 of us working together creating moments. . . . We pushed each other to be our best no matter what.”
What a mentor taught you: The value of collaboration.
Biggest takeaway: “This opened up my eyes to an entirely different way of making theatre. So many other elements can tell a story, not just the script.”
Students credited Drew Theatre Professors Lisa Brenner and Chris Ceraso with hands-on help through the accelerated process of creating Immersion, which included building sets and winter-break draft writing.
In addition, Drew theatre connections in New York proved a boon to participants. For example, Blossom at one point visited the set of Come From Away on Broadway and while there, she met an alumnus who was working on the show. The students also found the immersive nature of the semester invaluable. As Dzioba put it, “It was all consuming but very rewarding.”
Post Immersion, Blossom feels well prepared her as she heads off after graduation to a summer job as a stage manager in Colorado. “I’ve had such a wide range of experience at Drew,” she said.