Every summer, Stephens College’s theater department organizes a six-week program for the students just finishing their freshman year. These students, mostly women, will perform once a week, each piece hitting the stage only once. Brett Prentiss, who directs the program, calls the summer “Theater Boot Camp” and said he looks forward to this more than any other event of the year.
The Stephens Summer Theatre Institute will produce a range of shows, from the silly, whimsical children’s play “The Lost Half Hour” to the harder-hitting “A Glass Too Many,” which was written by Bartlett Jones of Columbia. The other traditional play being performed is “Class Action,” by Brad Slaight, a drama featuring high school students.
“The Lost Half Hour,” which shows Friday, is about Bobo, a boy who is tricked by his cruel friends to search for the mythical lost half-hour. He also finds a lost temper and a princess along the way.
In the summer institute, experimental casting reigns. Students are placed in roles that they wouldn’t normally be typecast for. This, along with the grueling rehearsal schedule, pushes young actors out of their comfort zones.
By starting his students off with a light-hearted comedy, Prentiss is getting them warmed up. “We do children’s plays specifically,” he said. “With children’s theater, they’re all tough critics.”
After their week of child’s play, the actors move to a more grown-up genre, improvised comedy. “They have a prayer and what they can come up with,” Prentiss said.
The following week, the genre will flip again completely, with more than 20 shorter performances of famous monologues from Broadway plays found in the book “Encore” by Jason Milligan, Deborah Cowles Scott and Robert Spera. These monologues are often used by actors in auditions, so they give the students experience.
For monologues, costumes and sets are scaled down, so there’s nothing to distract the audience from the actor’s movements and voice. Monologues will be both comedy and drama but are labeled for a mature audience.
“Class Action” finds the actors playing high school students, but the topics deal with the serious issues facing high school students today and none of the scenes takes place in a classroom.
Jones will be in the audience June 15 for the premiere of his play, “A Glass Too Many.” Jones, 74, retired as a professor of law and humanities at Central Methodist University. He was inspired by a birthday party he attended at which the guests argued about public policy.
“The play is basically a dysfunctional dinner party in which the parties differ over racial issues and illegal immigrants and basically are antagonistic toward each other, which you know, is not the way a dinner party is supposed to go at all,” Jones said. “These characters, all in their own way, are somewhat flawed.”
The institute closes with a musical theater revue, in which the actors will test other theatrical skills and learn to sing and dance numbers from popular musicals.