Drama workshop brings UConn, Windham High School together

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Windham - posted Tue., Jan. 29, 2013
Windham High School Windham Players members had the opportunity to work with a UConn professor/director on Jan. 23. Photos by Melanie Savage.
Windham High School Windham Players members had the opportunity to work with a UConn professor/director on Jan. 23. Photos by Melanie Savage.

Toward the tail end of a workshop at Windham High School on Jan. 23, University of Connecticut associate professor of dramatic arts Scott Ripley gave students some advice regarding their resumes. Include “anything that makes you unique,” he said.

Moving on, Ripley asked what students should be doing in the hallway as they wait for their turn to audition. “Preparing,” came the tentative response. “Yes, preparing!” responded Ripley enthusiastically. Doing anything besides preparation is a waste of valuable time, suggested Ripley. “Take as much time as you need to get to where you need to be to create your character,” he advised.

Ripley was invited to speak to Windham students by English teacher Vincent Iovine. Iovine, who holds dual graduate degrees in speech/drama and teaching, took over the school drama program eight years ago and immediately decided to draw in performers from outside the school. The Windham Players now regularly draws actors from a number of local elementary schools, high schools and universities. But there is a core group of Windham High School students who are also involved in productions, including some graduating seniors who have decided to pursue futures in the dramatic arts. The workshop was primarily aimed at these students, and was intended to provide them with advice regarding preparation for auditions for entry into dramatic arts programs at the university level.

"I was really happy when I was asked to come out,” said Ripley. “There are several reasons I like to work with students outside of UConn.” First, said Ripley, “it's wonderful to find talented, disciplined and dedicated students in our own backyard.” Visiting local high schools provides a recruiting opportunity for UConn. “Recruiting is not easy; there are many factors to consider,” said Ripley. “And there are outstanding candidates everywhere.”

But it’s not all about the recruiting, said Ripley. “Theatre is a collaborative art,” he said. “It's something the new dean of the School of Fine Arts, Brid Grant, has already stressed in her first year: the importance of collaboration within the school, even – especially - between departments.”

Workshops such as the one at Windham High School tap into this collaborative paradigm. “Every time I teach a class, I learn something: about craft/process, about art, about the world and, especially, about humanity. Teaching makes me a better teacher, just like process makes me a better actor/director,” said Ripley. “So, without knowing it, the Windham students have already contributed something to the Department of Dramatic Arts at UConn.”

But a third reason for outreach “is the most important reason of all,” said Ripley. Theater is, “by definition, communal,” he said. Ripley related the story of his appearance in “The Who’s Tommy” at the La Jolla Playhouse. On Thursday and Saturday nights, “the show rocked the building,” he said. But every Friday night was a bit of a dud. The difference, Ripley came to realize, was the audience. “For some reason Friday night audiences at La Jolla didn't want to participate as much as the other audiences there,” he said. “That's when I began to realize that the audience is actually a part of the production; that's when I started to understand that without community, theatre cannot exist.”

And in a country that is becoming increasingly focused on technology, “community is more important than ever,” said Ripley. “That's why I'm so passionate to have a life in the theatre: I believe the theatre is critical to our culture's survival.” It’s important to remember that UConn is part of a much larger community, said Ripley.  “I have heard many people on campus - right up to and including President Herbst - talk, very sincerely, about the importance of the university integrating with our community,” he added.

After providing advice regarding the basics, such as resumes, auditions and monologue length (“No one has ever, in the history of monologue auditions, chosen a monologue that was too short”), Ripley asked if anyone was ready to work. Windham senior Jared bravely volunteered. Jared, along with fellow senior Brighid, is already scheduled to audition for the UConn dramatic arts program. He stood at the front of the stage and performed a piece from a show based on the “Peanuts” comic strip, during which Charlie Brown seeks solace in Schroeder after the death of Snoopy.

Ripley had the student perform the monologue again and again, each time offering advice on how to access the emotion and the reality of the scene. When he asked for another volunteer, there were no takers, so Ripley filled the last few minutes of the workshop by performing a monologue himself, a scene from a modern adaptation of the Greek classic “Orestes.”

“I love that scene,” he said when he was done. “If I have an opportunity to do that scene, I’ll do it. Whenever you have a chance to exercise your passion, do it.”

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