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Stephens College’s “Jerks and Freaks” takes risks for education

Friday, June 5, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

It started as a dare among friends in New York and ended up as a model for students at Stephens College.

During a five-year stint as an actor, Dan Schultz was challenged by his friends to write and produce a 10-minute play from pen to curtain in one month.

IF YOU GO

What: "Jerks and Freaks"

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday

Where: Warehouse Theatre, Stephens College

Cost: Free



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“We weren’t paying ourselves much money, but we always had work, always had a show to do,” said Schultz, director of Stephens Summer Theatre Institute. “It’s just something we literally came up with in a bar, over shots. We dared each other to write a play. Anybody can do it."

After he and his fellow actors built a successful theater company off the dare, Schultz returned to his alma mater last year with the same concept for the summer theater program.

This marks the 38th year for the summer theater institute, which runs though June 29. 

“Jerks and Freaks,” an edgy, avant-garde collection of completely original works by students, is the second of four shows this season. A free performance at 7:30 p.m. Friday will be held in the Warehouse Theatre at Stephens College.

The real challenge for students like Lauren Maslanik, 18, was writing something original. She is one of 26 writers who contributed to "Jerks and Freaks."

“Coming into it, we didn’t realize how much we were going to have to write ourselves,” she said.

Schultz called it the type of challenge that will help his students to succeed. It was a lesson he said he learned during his time in New York theater.

"In this business, people don't just give you jobs," he said. "You have to create it yourself."

The 26 works in "Jerks and Freaks" range from 15 seconds to two minutes in length. The only requirement for the student writers was to build their piece around a specific theme and character.

“If they wanted to explore what it would be like to live with polar bears, they could do that,” he said. “If they wanted to be artsy and personal, they could do that.”

Schultz said the common theme in each of the students’ pieces, though they are all different, is really about the dark thoughts that enter your head. The performance includes a deeply personal sonnet and a scene where video literally kills the radio star, he said.

“It’s not your typical night out at the theater," he said. "It’s an hour of head-scratching amusement."

Ashlee James, a 19-year-old theater student, said she used to psych herself out, but when she started writing her own material for the theater, she discovered there were no boundaries.

“Growing up, I was like, ‘I’ll never get to play this role,’ I was boxing myself in,” James said. “But writing your own material, I’m not going to say, ‘I can’t do this.’”

James said she will perform a brief monologue on Friday pointing out the stereotypes associated with “Stephens girls.”

“It’s a good contrast to the training we had during the year,” James said. “It’s more physical and hands-on, less lecturing and more actually doing.”

Maslanik’s piece was written with a friend about two second-grade students teaching their class politically incorrect information they found on the Internet about moments in history.

“I hope people will think, ‘Oh God, I’ve thought those things before,'” she said.

Coming from what she called a more conservative theater background, James said she was surprised by what she could get away with on stage.

“It just shows theater is limitless; you can do and say whatever you want,” she said.

Schultz agreed with James but said the show was for mature audiences: “Don’t bring kids.”

However, the goal of the production and the institute is education and preparation, he said.

“No one is losing their job over this,” Schultz said. “If it works, great. If it doesn’t, so what, we had a fun night out together.”

 


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Comments

pat mcd June 9, 2009 | 3:49 p.m.

I work here at Stephens and I've been to all of the plays offered by the STI program. For girls transitioning from freshman year, the performances are very impressive. And for the price, these are definitely the best deal in the Columbia performance arts scene this summer.
I took a friend to see "Jerks and Freaks" and we both really enjoyed it. For me, there was just a bit too much foul language at times, but I think it is important for the girls to be able to experiment with expression to learn what works, what doesn't, and the importance of incorporating elements of form, contrast/balance, and rhythm/timing to realize their art.

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