Multiplicity. Energy. Purposeful provocation. Diversity and individuality which uplifts harmony. The vibrancy of technology that allows both transcendence and timelessness. An outstanding theatrical experience.
These are the characteristics and tenets central to the upcoming season of Carnegie Mellon University’s drama department. The program, which annually features a season replete with the ideal assortment of classic theatre, musical productions, and student-created smaller works, is, on a surface level, everything one would anticipate from a premiere drama program’s upcoming lineup. However, the ambitions and innovative standards that the creative team behind the forthcoming season upheld set the potentially standard collection of pieces radically apart from a traditional approach to a dramaturgical season.
Speaking with Peter Cooke, Carnegie Mellon’s Professor and Head of the School of Drama, the convention-defying prospects of the individuals toiling on the school’s season were evident and exciting. A primary concern for the Cooke, as is the case with any impending season, is how to account for and give appropriate stage time and responsibilities to the myriad of gifted folks that are part of CMU’s Drama School. Cooke emphasized the importance of a holistic education and a nuanced understanding of every facet of the dramaturgical process as being tantamount to shaping each upcoming season. As such, in the preseason planning meetings—that, Cooke noted, are structured to be a free-form, progressive conversations, free of hierarchy and promoting constructive, inclusive dialogue—the creative team casts a wide net of show considerations that will utilize students in ways they perhaps have not been used before in their tenure at CMU. This not only means consciously considering the demographics of the actors or the stage-time they have had prior to the upcoming season but selecting shows that will allow all the individuals to work in capacities that challenge and strengthen their skills (whether that be on-stage or behind the scenes). Once the creative team has an assortment of shows that can account for the various students (both undergrad and graduate), the pool is narrowed and the final selections for shows are made.
A crucial element Cooke discussed was that of sensitivity to and adroitness in handling matters surrounding the #metoo movement and the ongoing criticalness of Black Lives Matter, and how that shapes casting and developing seasons. Per the core tenets of the creative team, Cooke and his associates strive for pieces which honor and revisit classic theatre, showcase new artists’ work and new interpretations of standard pieces, and explore new themes and push new limits of content and technology. Part of upholding this tenet for Cooke and those involved on every level of CMU’s upcoming season means demonstrating a concern for marginalized and threatened voices in the works put forth. As the entertainment and theatrical community has been at the forefront of the #metoo moment (and been very relevant to the BLM movement), showing thoughtfulness and evolution in the realms of equality, survivor representation, and overall sensitivity are of the utmost importance to the CMU team. Aside from overall awareness and continual engagements with the community about, the CMU upcoming seasons promises profoundly transcendent works that deconstruct genre, gender, and technological expectations. For example, the school’s first commissioned work Way Out West, written by CMU alumna Liza Birkenmeier and directed by Kim Weild, examines the extreme bizarreness, isolation and gendered curiousness of a notoriously intense historical moment—the work involved on the Manhattan Project. Not only is the play significant for highlighting and reconceptualizing a unique, polemical moment in history, but it illuminates CMU’s commitment to broadcasting talented current and former students.
In addition to Birkenmeier’s piece, the upcoming CMU season will feature a bevy of works directed by CMU students. Featured among these pieces will be Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons (written by Sam Steiner and directed by Mary Frances Candies); It’s in the Bag (adapted and directed by Drama Fellow Rachel Karp); and Pilgrims, (written by Claire Kiechel and directed by Connor Driscoll). Student-helmed works will accompany the Drama School’s more traditional lineup that will feature the outstanding hit Cabaret—directed by Tome Cousin, and particularly prescient in our current political climate—and Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors (directed by Don Wadsworth) and the scorching political drama Detroit ’67, which examines the 1967 Detroit riots and the continued devastation and oppression of African American communities (originally by Dominique Morisseau and directed by Kym Moore). CMU’s upcoming season not only promises to incorporate progressive, critically evolved politics into an already stellar season, but also promises to defy norms of technology, gender, talent, and inclusivity.
For tickets and more information on the rest of CMU’s season click here.