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Myths in Movement

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    Robert Frost, shown here in Southwestern's 2011 production of "Into the Woods," is among the 10 students going to Bulgaria this summer to participate in the Rhodopi International Theater Laboratory. Frost will be working with Theatre Professor Rick Roemer and fellow student Rachel Hoovler to introduce Bulgarians to the tradition of American musical theater. (Photo by Shelley Dormont)

Theatre students and faculty attend summer theatre training program in Bulgaria

Two theatre faculty members, 10 students and one recent graduate will be exploring the world of theatre through an international lens July 9-Aug. 9.

The group will be attending the Rhodopi International Theater Laboratory (RITL), an international theatre-training program held in the town of Smolyan, Bulgaria. Smolyan is located in the Rhodopi Mountains, known as the mythological origins of Western theatre, music and performance. This is the sixth year students from Southwestern have attended RITL. In addition to exploring a foreign country, participants are immersed in a rigorous training schedule.

“I’m looking forward to collaborating with theatre artists from cultural backgrounds different from my own, and I’m also looking forward to the program’s intense work environment,” said 2011 graduate Leslie Turner, who is participating for the second time.

The students act out international myths, legends and folk tales through workshops and performances. This year’s theme is a myth of Zoroaster, an Iranian religious reformer and prophet who founded Zoroastrianism, also known as Parsiism. The workshops will focus on myths related to Zoroaster and the Persian culture.

“From what I have heard from my colleagues and professors, the RITL in Bulgaria is a chance to challenge myself and come back as a more rounded artist,” said junior Abraham Ramirez. “It is something I am looking forward to accomplishing.”

Theatre Professor Rick Roemer and junior Robert Frost will be adding a new dimension to the RITL program this year: musical theatre. The two were awarded a faculty-student grant to fund a project that will introduce the American musical theatre tradition to Bulgaria.

“Bulgaria has rich theatrical traditions in all genres and styles of theatre – except musical theatre,” Roemer said. “They have recently just begun exploring this genre with productions like Cats and Jesus Christ Superstar.”

Roemer, Frost and Rachel Hoovler are putting together a workshop production of “Bittersuite,” a musical by Elliott Weiss and Michael Champagne. Roemer is directing the production, Frost is providing musical direction, and Hoovler is providing assistant direction and assistant musical direction. The text is being translated into Bulgarian and the Southwestern team is working with a cast of four Bulgarian professionals and a translator.

\In addition to introducing the American musical theatre tradition to Bulgarians, Roemer said he expects the project will allow the native Bulgarian theatrical and musical tradition to influence their ideas of what musical theatre is. Roemer and Frost will share their work with the Southwestern community when they return from Bulgaria.

In addition to Frost, Hoovler and Ramirez, Southwestern students attending the program this year are Kayla Bright, Alexis Gette, Jessica Hughes, Alison Meagher-Manson, Laura Platt, Jasmine Thomas, Leslie Turner and Chris Weihert.

“I am looking forward to visiting Europe for the first time and getting the opportunity to work outside my comfort zone with theatre professionals from around the world and some of my closest friends from Southwestern,” Bright said.

Frost, Hughes, Hoovler, Meagher-Manson and Weihert have all participated in the program before.

“Bulgaria is a beautiful country with a very rich history and culture. Of course I’m looking forward to the 30-degree drop in temperature, but I’m also excited to be spending a month in a place that almost seems removed from the rest of the world,” Weihert said.

Jared J. Stein is the founder of Fourthworld Theatre Projects and the artistic director of the RITL. He was inspired to develop the RITL program in Bulgaria when he went there in 2001. Participating in RITL is a continuing Southwestern tradition that has helped students get accepted to prestigious graduate schools and make connections that have led to jobs after graduation.

“I’m excited to see and work with some of the most amazing artists I’ve ever met,” said Hughes, who is returning to RITL for the third time.