Theater at the University is a sprawling institution that presents students with a multitude of unique opportunities to experiment and engage with the dramatic arts throughout the academic year.
“If you are interested in theater at all, I encourage you to get involved and go for everything and anything,” said Nico Krell ’18, who is pursuing certificates in theatre and musical theatre.
Krell has both directed and acted in shows with student-run groups, but his primary work has been with the University’s theater department. His most recent endeavor was directing his senior thesis show, the musical “Picnic at Hanging Rock,” which was performed at the Berlind Theatre in early March.
“It has only been fantastic,” said Krell of his experiences with the theatre department. “We are very well-supported … we work with lots of renowned professionals, and as a result, the production value of shows is simply above and beyond.”
The “Picnic at Hanging Rock” production team was comprised of University students working in tandem with professionals to design and craft sets, costumes, props, sound, and lighting. However, for all shows produced through the theater department, the emphasis remains on student collaboration and creation.
“You are ultimately going to be the one who makes it happen,” Krell explained, describing the process of putting a production together as “very hands-on.”
Katherine Giordano ’18, who is also completing theater and musical theater certificates, echoed Krell’s enthusiasm about the theater department at the University.
“I recommend getting involved in theater in any way, shape, or form,” said Giordano, adding that the department offers classes to take and shows to be a part of or just to see.
For her senior thesis project, Giordano co-proposed and co-starred in a production of the musical “Next to Normal,” which was led by professional directors and performed at the Wallace Theater in February. She also expressed appreciation for the department’s financial backing and production support.
Speaking to the impact of theater, Giordano said that she and her co-proposers were all interested in doing “Next to Normal” because they thought it could promote an important dialogue about mental health.
“Finally performing the show was so rewarding,” she said. “We feel confident that we created a great piece of art and sparked a crucial conversation on campus.”
Both Krell and Giordano said the students and faculty of the department are a warm and friendly community and help mitigate the various hardships of doing theatre in an academic context.
One such hardship is the disappointing and unavoidable reality of rejection. “Hearing ‘no’ is going to happen,” said Krell. “You have to be creative, flexible, and open to going down paths that are different than what you anticipated.”
Beyond the theater department are numerous student-run theater companies, bringing together individuals who are both passionate aficionados and curious newcomers outside of the classroom. Some of them are eminent, long-running establishments; Theatre Intime, for example, has been producing multiple shows every year at the Hamilton-Murray Theater since 1921.
Another such group is the Triangle Club, a touring musical comedy troupe that puts on original shows and is the oldest one of its kind in the country.
For Joe Redmond ’18, Triangle was what he had been “obsessed” with from the day he was admitted to the University. After performing in “Little Shop of Horrors” with the Princeton University Players, another student-run company that specializes in musical theater, he was cast in a Triangle show during the spring of his freshman year and has been heavily involved ever since.
“Theater at the University takes a lot of time and commitment,” said Redmond. “It is challenging to figure out how best to balance the expectations of high production values with school responsibilities, and leadership roles [within student-run groups] are especially demanding.”
For those with more niche theatrical interests, there are also a number of smaller student-run groups, such as the South Asian Theatrics and Chinese Theater companies.
Gayatri Ramesh ’19, current president of the Princeton Shakespeare Company, said that student theater is good for people who like acting or are interested in theater but do not have as much time to commit to it.
“You can get as much or as little out of the experience as you want and still feel involved,” explained Ramesh. “If you are not careful, it can be a huge time suck and go from zero to one hundred really quickly.” She added that she would encourage students to join theater groups, explaining that they are tight-knit communities.
The Princeton Shakespeare Company, which produces four to five classical plays every year, is part of the Performing Arts Council. Ramesh described frequent frustrations regarding the way the Council allocates rehearsal times and spaces among its members, as well as what she perceived to be “an overall lack of generosity and flexibility toward theater groups.”
Additionally, she cited the lack of available resources and manpower as a major issue that has beset the Company in recent months.
On the other hand, in spite of the myriad challenges involved in keeping smaller student-run theater institutions afloat, Ramesh says that there is still nothing more rewarding than “seeing a show successfully to performance and completion, especially when the directors are pleased with the outcome.”
Even with the wide breadth of options on campus for those who are interested in the dramatic arts, the ambitious and artistically enterprising will always be able to spot theatrical needs that have yet to be met.
One such student is Jonathan Alicea ’20, who independently put on an original play in the spring of his freshman year.
“It was a very surreal experience to make it happen,” recalls Alicea.
Producing his own play and seeing it received so well inspired Alicea to found the Playwright’s Guild earlier this year, a brand new theater company that is dedicated to putting original student work onto the stage. The Guild is currently in the process of rehearsing its first show, “Zero Sum Game,” written by Nolan Liu ’19.
Liu is a former associate sports editor for The Daily Princetonian.
The initial feat of getting a new student-run group up off the ground “hasn’t been easy,” according to Alicea. The Guild is currently in the process of expanding and forging connections with other theater groups, but in order to do so, it has to first make a name for itself in the Princeton community and promote its work.
The sheer fact of the Guild’s existence, however, is reward enough for Alicea.
“I didn’t know, freshman year, if this idea of mine could come to fruition … It is gratifying to see an entire team of my peers working together to act on our shared passion and encourage people to get involved with student theater.”
The head-spinning array of dramatic opportunities provided by the University has the ultimate goal of enabling students “to pick out what they love and run with it,” as Alicea put it. But for students who have only an inkling of theatrical interest and no isolated passions as of yet, there is certainly no shortage of things to try.