Arts & Culture

PW’s UpFest features range of performances, workshops

Festival aims to unite community around theater, showcase series of student art groups

Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 22, 2016

UpFest, a new festival hosted by the Production Workshop, provides student groups and individuals a platform to showcase their work. The two-week festival was conceived in response to feedback from the community that PW is closed off from the rest of campus, said Devon Nir ’17, a member of the PW board that planned the events.

“We decided to try something new, curating the Upspace with this new event,” Nir said. “It was a very long brainstorming session, and this was the baby of it.”

UpFest kicked off March 15 with a performance from the Oja Modern African Dance group and a workshop with Brown Lion Dance group the next day. Students tried on the lion heads and learned moves from the dancers, Nir said. The night of March 17 featured the Afro-Brazilian drumming group Bloco da Brown, which flooded the PW Upspace with sound.

March 21, back-to-back performances of the dance piece “Straight Movements, White Space and a Blank Dance” showcased the choreography of Anh Vo ’18, who recently created the project specifically for UpFest. The piece begins with five synchronized dancers, the shifting of their bodies robotic and graceful. Between sweeping steps and rigid arm movements, the five often twirl away and retreat to the shadowy edges of the stage before reentering.

Vo focused on the physicality of the bodies,  reflected in the simplistic black and white attire of the dancers. His choreography “stripped all the emotion from the bodies,” Vo said.

UpFest’s string of performances and workshops included an installment of Alumni Wizards, a program in which alums visit the PW to offer expertise and share their experiences. “We’re trying to do more of them,” Nir said. “This is the first one of the semester, but there will probably be a few more.”

Rebecca Rouse ’04, assistant professor of communication and media at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and PW alum, gave a talk Sunday titled “Technology on Stage: Dramaturgy, Design and Performance.”

Rouse focused on how technology — including digital media and augmented reality — can be used to enhance theatrical storytelling. Rouse discussed her experience as a senior directing the play “Machinal,” the production of which involved a character played by a robot built from parts of a remote-controlled car.

Her work with “Machinal” drew Rouse toward the intersection of technology and theater, she said. Her master’s thesis, completed at York University in 2007, consisted of a production of “Woyzeck” viewed through head-mounted displays, she said.

Rouse also outlined her ongoing and upcoming projects, including a production of “Our Town” in which the narrator’s gestures control immersive scenery that encircles the audience.

But Rouse added that she still loves seeing traditional or minimalist productions. “What’s awesome about theater is that what’s traditional is always shifting,” Rouse said. “It’s a living, breathing thing. I don’t think that all theater should be one way. That’s the beauty of it.”

UpFest will continue through March 24, with events ranging from comedy workshops to live jazz.

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