Forming An Ensemble, Hangar Theatre Lab Company of 2015.

group of people doing funny poses with flashcards strewn in front of them
The Hangar Theatre in Ithaca, New York
The Hangar Theatre in Ithaca, New York

Hi there everyone! As this is my first post I will start off by giving some background information! My name is Olivia Wendel and I’m a rising senior in Gallatin studying Songwriting and Drama. I’m specifically interested in where those two things intersect, so the creation of song for theatre or the performativity of song in theatre. I’m currently writing this from a rehearsal room at Cornell University’s Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts. I’m watching two of my fellow ensemble members rehearse and break down a scene we are working on from Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information, part of a studio project we are involved in for the week.

The 2015 Lab Company!
The 2015 Lab Company!

I’ve been here in “gorges” Ithaca, New York for five weeks as one of the 21 selected members of the 2015 Hangar Theatre Lab Company. It seems important to give some background on the Hangar Theatre itself, a place that I have grown so passionate about. It’s an amazing place, let me say. Before it became a theatre, the Hangar was one of the earliest airports in New York State. In 1975 the Hangar Theatre doors opened and in 1986 an adjacent set and costume shop was also built. There have been several Artistic Directors and right now the artistic director is Jen Waldman, who assumed the position in 2012. Jen is one of our mentors and frankly parents of the Lab Company including Steve Pacek and Stephanie Card, all working professionals in the theatre. They are the most extraordinary people I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet and let me say so talented. They are here to direct mainstages at the theatre, mentor us crazy kids, and even perform on the Hangar’s thrusted stage. This summer the Hangar Theatre main stages are God of Carnage, Spring Awakening (I’m Wendla’s understudy!!), The Hound of the Baskervilles, and Talley’s Folly. More information can be found here

Ithaca is "gorges"
Ithaca is “gorges”

So what am I doing here? The reason I am here is to first of all learn and further familiarize myself with my own actor process through learning different techniques of movement and acting. We rehearse shows and projects all day from 9am-6pm and take night classes till 11pm in different disciplines such as Laban Movement, Viewpoints, Monologue Workshops, and Devised Theatre. My research focus here is to break down the process  of forming ensemble and what it means to work in an ensemble, creating exciting and poignant pieces of theatre.

One of the first things that we did as an ensemble was create a mission statement. Through a long process of word association and brainstorming we came up with: “We, The Hangar Lab Company of 2015, seek always to stay on the edge of growth. We will bravely risk who we are now to grow into the artist and ensemble we will become. We will bring positivity and joy to the unexplored areas of our communities. We will fail forward, and thrive in the unknown together.”

The Lab Company is fortunate to get to perform in all the KiddStuff shows, geared towards adults and their kids, as well as the Wedge series, plays that are free to the public that occur just outside the theatre doors under a tent starting at around 10pm. I have been in Emperor’s New Clothes (Kiddstuff) and Mud (Wedge) so far and I’ve already learned so much about myself emotionally, spiritually, and professionally.

Photo still from "Mud" by Maria Irene Fornes
Photo still from “Mud” by Maria Irene Fornes

I cannot tell you how excited I am to be conducting this research here in such a supportive and creatively thriving environment. We are spending all eight weeks fostering a beautifully unique community where such complicated and extraordinary work can exist and the ensemble can grow. Not only are there learning and working actors of all ages here, but we are also fortunate enough to house four Drama League Directing Fellows over the summer who teach, direct, and mentor the Lab Company members. Paul Bedard, one of our Drama League fellows runs Theatre In Asylum, a New York based theatre company that grants asylum to characters who the ensemble deems worthy of recognition. Their process is extremely ensemble based, working in devising theatre and creating entirely new works so he is someone that I will be interviewing. We worked a lot with Anne Bogart’s Viewpoints as an ensemble building tool and Dan Rogers, graduate of Brown-Trinity taught us a course on viewpoints so he will also be a part of my research paper.

Night class working with devising theatre under the direction of Paul Bedard.
Night class working with devising theatre under the direction of Paul Bedard.

Honestly I couldn’t be more lucky to be here surrounded by endless resources and love from my fellow ensemble members and directors. Can’t wait to write more later!

Finally, I wrote this song in honor of my experience in Mud. Feel free to take a listen! Original Song, “Mae”

2 thoughts on “Forming An Ensemble, Hangar Theatre Lab Company of 2015.

  1. Hi Olivia!

    As a lover of theatre, I was very drawn to your project. Sounds like an incredible program!

    As I read this post, I am thinking about the history of “ensemble” in the arts and there is so much rich history there—from the chorus in Ancient Greek theatre and so on. I’m wondering if you’ve incorporated any of this into you research, and if so, what aspects of theatre history?

    You also mention the word community as being important when you say: “We will bring positivity and joy to the unexplored areas of our communities.” I am curious to hear more about this part of your mission statement. What do you mean by community here? Is the theatre company? Your audiences? Both? It sounds like the Wedge series might be a good example of this, in providing free theatre to the public. In examining this concept of ensemble, do you think artists have a unique responsibility to their communities?

    I am interested in theatre and music education so I would also love to hear more about the Kiddstuff shows. Do you feel there is an important educational component to ensemble? How does the experience of acting in shows geared toward children differ from your experience performing for mainly adult audiences?

    Good luck on your research and enjoy the rest of your summer!

  2. Hey Olivia!

    Your summer sounds absolutely wonderful. It’s amazing that you got this collaborative opportunity, and I can’t wait to hear more about your discoveries on forming an ensemble and creating new work together, because to me that seems one of the most challenging parts of theatre.

    I’m an actress as well, and in one of my classes at Gallatin, Directing for the 21st Century taught by Kristin Horton, we watched a documentary by the theatre ensemble The Team. I strongly recommend you to watch it if you have time, because it shows how tough being part of an ensemble can be, but it also shows why it’s worth it.

    You wrote about the mission statement of your ensemble, and though it seemed very passionate and positive, it was still very broad. In The Team’s documentary, I noticed that whenever the group’s ideas weren’t specific enough, it was very hard to create something from scratch. Are you experiencing similar things? Does your ensemble work very naturally together, or are there downsides to not knowing each other as well, such as not knowing what direction to go into?

    I’m curious to read more about the devising process too. What is usually the first thing your ensemble focuses on when creating new work in your Devised Theatre class? And is that very different from the ensemble work you’re doing as a group when you’re working on a show with a director?

    Your song was beautiful as well!

    Joosje Duk

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