A Summer Crop of New Theater

Rebecca Bailey

If you watched the Tony Awards in early June, you saw bits of theatrical works that had arrived on the Broadway stage, with the lights, costumes, pit bands, big-name casts and other trappings of theatrical success.

But what happens along the way is equally compelling - and Dartmouth students and Hop audiences have a unique chance each summer to see theatrical works and artists take that journey from the germ of an idea to full-stage realization.

Dartmouth summer theater is all about this. The Department of Theater’s Summer Theater Lab course gives students an immersion in the development of new theatrical works - offering an experience not found in any other undergraduate theater programs. And throughout the summer, they and the artists they work with share this newly hatched theater with Hop audiences.

The journey begins with VoxFest (Friday to Sunday, July 5 to 7), an annual summer festival of innovative, experimental and daring new works. Returning for its seventh consecutive year, VoxFest was founded by Matthew Cohn '08, Kate Mulley '05 and Thom Pasculli '05 in partnership with the Department of Theater. Emerging theater professionals who are mostly Dartmouth alumni spend a week in residence on campus, working with the Summer Theater Lab students and faculty to workshop current projects and works-in-progress. 

All VoxFest performances are free and open to the public. This year they include an installation piece, a musical, an investigation of what “church” really means, a modern twist on Chekhov, and the 2019 winner of the 2019 Neukom Institute Literary Arts Playwriting Award. See the full schedule here.

Next up is the 2019 Frost & Dodd Student Play Festival (Friday to Sunday, July 26 to 28). These three plays are the winners of two contests for Dartmouth student playwrights. The Summer Theater Lab gives staged readings of two of the plays and a full production of the third one - all of this an invaluable chance for the playwright to see how well what they’ve written actually “plays.” 

This year’s selections are Dr. Superman, which follows an Indian family transplanted to the rural South, as they navigate the brown experience in a community being ravaged by the rise of opiates and the loss of jobs; Lost Angeles, about an undergraduate in Los Angeles for an internship in film production, with 11 roommates and other memorable characters; and The Recording, an examination of the narration of death in black communities and the storytelling capabilities of black women in these contexts. Learn more about this year’s winners here, and purchase tickets (only $5).

Summer theater at the Hop winds up with the annual three-week residency by the New York Theatre Workshop, one of the nation’s leading theaters for developing new work. Every August, the company brings their work to Dartmouth for a three-week residency, developing and performing six new works-in-progress by some of today’s most innovative professional playwrights and directors. Helped by the students in the Summer Theater Lab, the artists dig into plays and musicals that often later make it to big Off Broadway and Broadway venues. Recent Dartmouth residency projects have included We Live In Cairo, currently in production at Boston’s American Repertory Theater, and Hadestown, which is now running on Broadway and which was recently honored with eight Tony Awards.

Hop audiences have two chances to experience each work. Each Tuesday of the residency, that week’s artists talk about their projects in a free noontime discussion. Then, on Saturday, two projects each week get a staged reading by New York theater professionals.

This year’s projects are:

  • Saturday, August 3, 4 pm: Buh Wha’ Trouble is Dis? (or The Exhumation of MC Spice), the tale of a first-generation Caribbean girl coming of age in the 1980s New York that tackles themes of racism, body image and show business.
  • Saturday, August 3, 7:30 pm: You Hateful Things, a wild and terrifying play about compartmentalization, whiteness, fragility and rage involving three siblings and their white father.
  • Saturday, August 10, 4 pm: A dramatic monologue, a new solo work written and performed by Ayad Aktar, author of vivid, award-winning plays that reflect on the Muslim-American experience.
  • Saturday, August 10, 7:30 pm: Look Upon Our Lowliness, the touching, unexpectedly funny story of seven men who, in the wake of a friend’s death, choose to embrace life.
  • Saturday, August 17, 4 pm: A Play for the Living in the Time of Extinction, an evening of interactive, interspecies storytelling that asks—through story, song and movement—how to be a human in an era of man-made extinction.
  • Saturday, August 17, 7:30 pm: The Seven Year Disappear, a tale of sudden disappearances and reappearances, and the questions they raise.