Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Behind The Scenes: Dial V For Vertigo

Their message couldn’t be clearer. “Write your own damn play,” is stated starkly across the bottom of Vertigo’s 2008 season poster. In well over ten years since Vertigo Productions was founded at NU, the students have listened.Vertigo is the only Northwestern Student Theater Coalition (STUCO) group that uses exclusively student-written plays. The company puts on two special events and four main-stage shows every year. The special events are lower-budget pieces of performance art, one performed on Dillo Eve and another during the fall.According to Vertigo’s co-chairwoman Jessica McKenna, a senior in theater, there are both benefits and drawbacks to putting on student-written plays. “You get to originate a role, which is really exciting for actors!” she says. “And as much as we pick things that are new and have huge risks, the idea is that the plays don’t end with us.” For example, Vertigo’s board could never have predicted that the one-man hip-hop spring 2005 special event would make it all the way to the New York City theater scene just three years later.Clay, a show written, composed, and performed by Matt Sax, who graduated from NU in 2005, was profiled in the New Yorker earlier this month. The Lincoln Theater Center in New York City presented Sax’s show with previews beginning in early October, reminding Vertigo of the benefits of taking a risk on student-written shows.As the company prepares to open its first play of the year, The Nursery, scheduled to run Nov. 13-15 in Shanley Pavilion, Playwriting Chairman Alexander Brown is excited about what the season will bring. “This is the strongest season we’ve had, at least since I’ve been here,” says Brown, a senior in the Creative Writing for the Media program. “We stepped it up last year, had some really great plays, and I feel we’ve stepped it up further this year.”Chris Wade, a senior in the RTVF program, says he was surprised by the competitive application process for Vertigo’s main-stage season. His play, Gulch, was chosen by the board after he submitted a 10-page synopsis. “There were upwards of 30 plays submitted, which is a lot considering how many people were writing at NU,” he says. Wade plans to attend as many rehearsals as he can for Gulch, which will be performed at the end of February in Shanley Pavilion. “I can’t wait to see them perform my work,” Wade says. “And I’d like to adjust the play to fit the players who are acting in it.”One of Vertigo’s primary goals is to allow student playwrights to see their pieces in action, before leaving college and trying to get their work produced elsewhere. “By seeing it on stage, playwrights can make improvements and the show can grow after being performed here,” McKenna says. Apparently, the system works. “We really hope to foster a community for writers, and keep working with them,” says Vertigo Publicity Chairwoman Jen D’Angelo. “We’d really like to develop a network of Vertigo alumni – even if only to piggyback on people’s fame,” she says, laughing. D’Angelo, a junior in the Creative writing for the Media Program, has worked with Vertigo from all sides of the stage.The company produced a show she’d written, The Curious Case of Caroline Crane, in the spring of 2008. D’Angelo has directed, served on Vertigo’s board beginning her freshman year, and is acting in The Nursery this quarter. She understands the effect the production of student plays can have on aspiring writers. “It was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever been involved in,” she says of the play she wrote for Vertigo. “It’s awesome to see people working so hard to make your show go up – I had this feeling of accomplishment as a writer.”All Vertigo productions are written, produced and directed by Northwestern undergrads. After selecting its plays each spring, the board and playwrights choose student directors, producers and stage managers. The board, co-chairs, liaisons to the crews of each play, and publicity and technology chairs act as resources during the production of the plays.D’Angelo says the cooperation is impressive among the plays’ crews, the board, and the playwrights. “The writer has a big say in who gets to direct their shows,” she says. “And the writers have been really mature, especially for people our age, and able to step back and be able to constructively defend their shows, but still allowing things to be changed.” McKenna says this cooperation is consistent with the mission of the group. “The directors should be able to breathe their own life into the project,” she says. “The board wants it to be a collaboration.”This year’s Vertigo season will include four plays. After The Nursery, Vertigo will produce two plays, Gulch and Cephalopod, in the winter, and a play called P for Predator in the spring. Casting is already done for the winter shows, but open auditions for the spring performance will be held at a later date. Getting involved gives students a feeling of community, according to McKenna. “I think that people who stay with Vertigo are a special community,” she says. “When people do activities at Northwestern that they care about, they don’t stop caring about it when they leave.”And who wouldn’t want to a part of the theater company responsible for both a play written-up in the New Yorker, and the infamously-loud Wrestlepocalypse? On that note, McKenna says when Vertigo was founded it was known as “weird theater,” but adds, “That’s silly – because all theater can be weird.”

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Behind The Scenes: Dial V For Vertigo