Ground Floor theater group aims to create opportunities for underexposed artists

Stavros Agorakis, Reporter


A new independent student-run theater group is looking to create a change within the Northwestern theater scene that hasn’t been done before: build a platform for underexposed theater artists to enhance their skills.

Weinberg sophomore Jon Mathias approached Communication sophomore Danny Bar-Lavi in February with the idea of creating an outlet to put the spotlight on undiscovered theater artists. Mathias and Bar-Lavi, currently the co-chairs of the Ground Floor Theatre Company, said with the board, they aim to create a learning-based experience for performers, directors and designers who have had difficulties breaking into the theater scene at NU.

“We’ve adopted this phrase ‘process and learning’ for our goal and for our mission statement,” said Bar-Lavi, the board’s artistic director. “We emphasize the education of the actor and the theater artist over the final product, over the performance of the show.”

The idea sprang from the competitive nature of NU’s student theater culture, which Mathias said is unfair by constantly highlighting the same performers through its audition and casting process. Similar to the professional world, the NU theater community consists of a great number of talented individuals, but often fails to provide equal opportunities for the entire range of students artists, he said.

“(The inconsistency) is the result of making very high-quality work,” Mathias said. “There’s no room for educational or process-oriented theater because (the NU theater community) is product-oriented. People want a good show; they want a star-striking musical.”

Ground Floor reached out to the Student Theatre Coalition executive board in late Winter Quarter to see what they could offer them as a new theater board, said Communication senior Sam Douglas, co-chair of StuCo. He added that to become a part of the coalition, the group will be required to prove financial sustainability and viability in terms of putting up new productions.

We obviously support new boards being made,” said Douglas, a former Daily staffer. “People see an empty spot that they’re excited to fill. I think people definitely feel empowered to take control of that situation and make an opportunity for themselves.

Mathias said Ground Floor’s mission is twofold. First, it aims to produce work that will encourage all members involved to experiment in a judgment-free space. Second, it will give opportunities to artists that do not generally receive much exposure, Mathias said. For that reason, the audition and callback process for any Ground Floor production will take place the week after StuCo boards hold their own, he said.

This aspect of the board was enough for Communication freshman Rachel Reizburg to jump in on the project, since she said the message resonated with her personal values about what student theater means.

“I love the idea of educational theater and just artists enjoying doing student theater,” Reizburg said. “(Ground Floor) will just strengthen the community as a whole, because everyone will get the chance to improve (their craft).”

Ground Floor members are currently in the process of accepting and reviewing board petitions. They plan on producing a festival during the 2016 late fall season, which will consist of five to seven one-act plays, Mathias said. Additionally, the group hopes to hold various workshops throughout the year — led by faculty and students who wish to share their knowledge and skills — to highlight the board’s educational mission, Bar-Lavi said.

He added that the group is aware that as a young theater board, it might struggle with getting artists to work with it at first.

“But then again, it might be really exciting that there is a new theater board on campus,” Bar-Lavi said. “I’ve never done this before.”

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