Current VPA News

Joanna Penalva

The Department of Drama in Syracuse University's College of Visual and Performing Arts announced the six plays and musicals that will make up the 2018/2019 season. With an emphasis on contemporary work, the season addresses a variety of current issues and concerns as experienced from intimately personal points of view. The season celebrates stories of consequence, while at the same time investigating and challenging the process, implications and impact of storytelling itself.

The season includes: “Into the Woods;” “Next Fall;” “Elf the Musical” (co-produced with Syracuse Stage); “We Are Proud to Present a Presentation about the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as South West Africa, From the German Südwestafrika, Between the Years 1884 – 1915;” “The Wild Party;” and “Good Kids.”

With a blend of musicals and plays, familiar titles and intriguing contemporary work, the season reflects careful consideration by Department Chair Ralph Zito and the drama faculty to align mainstage productions with the program’s academic goals. 

“We want the students to learn how to be responsible and engaged artists,” Zito said. “We believe as theater artists our job is to share stories of the human condition in the hope of inspiring change. This season, more than any in recent years, achieves that.”

While all of the plays will find resonance in the world beyond the theater, two have particular currency. “Good Kids” by Naomi Iizuka originated in the Big Ten Theatre Consortium’s New Play Initiative, which was established to commission new work from women playwrights to be performed at universities. Iizuka based “Good Kids” on actual events, during which a female student was sexually assaulted by her peers in small-town Ohio. The incident was documented on social media by its participants and the case received national attention.

“I wanted to write a play that spoke to issues that were very important to university students right now,” Iizuka told Amercian Theatre. “It seems like the issue of sexual assault—and more importantly, the attitudes and misconceptions that create a climate where sexual assault is prevalent—seemed timely.”

Jackie Sibblies Drury’s “We are Proud to Present a Presentation . . .” explores significant and complex concerns currently swirling throughout various art communities, including visual arts as well as theater. In Drury’s play a company of six actors attempts to create a piece based on the historical genocide of the Herero people. As the actors grapple with how best to tell this difficult story, their rehearsal process is upended by their individual responses to the events they are relating and the limitations imposed by the source materials they use to tell it.

“This is a play that addresses the sensitive questions of who owns a story and who gets to tell a story,” explained Zito. “How can theater artists address these questions as they engage with narrative?”

As director of Geoffrey Nauffts’ “Next Fall”, Zito will engage his own artistic sensibilities with a story of a young man whose personal narrative is fractured in two by conflicts between religion and sexuality. The young man in question is named Luke. Having been struck by a taxi, he lies hospitalized in a coma. In the waiting room his friends and family, including his partner Adam, gather and wait for news and learn of the different versions of Luke they think they know. It is a play, as Ben Brantley noted in his New York Times review, that asks big questions in subtle and stealthy ways that won’t “go away when the play is over.”

Three musicals make up the other half of the season beginning with Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods.” Directed and choreographed by David Lowenstein, this production will offer a fresh take on Sondheim’s musical riff on the Brothers Grimm. As the season opener, “Into the Woods” sets the tone for what lies ahead as it celebrates the value of story and how revisiting familiar stories can illuminate not only the tale itself but also the way it can speak to an audience at any given moment.

The raucous and rumbling musical “The Wild Party” visits the roaring 20s for an out-of-control bash. Originally produced Off-Broadway in 2000, the musical by Andrew Lippa is based on a 1928 book-length poem by Joseph Moncure March and features a score influenced by jazz, gospel and pop as well a roomful of smart, witty and memorable characters.

Included in the Drama season is “Elf the Musical,” performed during the holiday season and produced in partnership with Syracuse Stage. Based on the movie starring Will Ferrell as Buddy the Elf, the stage musical has become a holiday favorite. 

The Department of Drama season begins Oct. 12 and runs through May 11. Performances for all plays except “Elf the Musical” are in the Arthur Storch Theater in the Syracuse Stage/SU Drama Complex, 820 E. Genesee St. Syracuse. “Elf the Musical” performs in the Archbold Theatre at the same address. Subscriptions and Flex Packs are available now through the Syracuse Stage Box Office (315-443-3275).


Into the Woods 
Book by James Lapine
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Directed and Choreographed by David Lowenstein
Musical Direction by Brian Cimmet
Oct. 12 – 21

A stunningly fresh take on one of Stephen Sondheim's most popular works, this production nudges the familiar characters of “Into the Woods” a little further into the fearful, dark forest. Sondheim based his sophisticated musical on the unsettling tales of the Brothers Grimm, populated it with slightly skewed versions of storybook favorites, and set them on a course wherein having wishes granted is not the same as having wishes come true. Good storytellers know unforeseen consequences are always lurking deep in the narrative. 

Next Fall
By Geoffrey Nauffts
Directed by Ralph Zito
Nov. 9 – 17

There are stories we tell about ourselves and stories others tell about us. Can both perspectives yield truth? A car accident places a young man named Luke in critical condition. As he lies comatose, suspended between life and death, his family and friends slowly begin reckoning with the conflicting stories of his life, the silences and secrets that have kept Luke from integrating his present and his past. Will Luke be given a chance to knit the story of his life into a satisfying whole? In this deeply moving and surprisingly funny play, Geoffrey Nauffts takes the measure of a painful passage and shapes a drama that speaks in a quiet voice of momentous things.

Elf the Musical
Book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin
Music by Matthew Sklar
Lyrics by Chad Beguelin
Directed by Donna Drake
Choreography by Brian J. Marcum
Musical Direction by Brian Cimmet
Based on the New Line Cinema film by David Berenbaum
Co-produced with Syracuse Stage
Nov. 23 – Jan. 6

This holiday season channel your inner elf and join Buddy on his journey from the North Pole to New York City to find his real family. For this journey you’ll need provisions (four food groups recommended: candy, candy canes, candy corns and syrup), snowballs and an ability to sing very loud (but maybe wait for the ride home).  Most of all, you’ll need family and friends and a desire to spread holiday cheer. Donna Drake (“The Wizard of Oz”) returns to direct this delightful holiday show.

We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, From the German Südwestafrika, Between the Years 1884–1915 
By Jackie Sibblies Drury
Directed by Gilbert McCauley
Feb. 22 – March 3

Ever wonder what it would be like to be in the rehearsal room when actors are digging ferociously into their psyches to discover a moment of revelation or arguing heatedly over a character’s motivation? In “We Are Proud to Present …,” a company of six actors gathers in a rehearsal room to tell the little-known story of the first genocide of the 20th century—the extinction of the Herero tribe at the hands of their German colonizers. Along the way, they test the limits of empathy as their own stories, subjectivities, assumptions and prejudices catalyze their theatrical process. Eventually the full force of a horrific past crashes into the good intentions of the present, and what seemed a faraway place and time comes all too close to home in this exceptional play about the sensitivities and difficulties inherent in the act of storytelling itself.

The Wild Party 
Book, Music and Lyrics by Andrew Lippa
Based on the Poem by Joseph Moncure March
Directed by Katherine McGerr and Andrea Leigh-Smith
Musical Direction by Brian Cimmet
March 29 – April 7

You’re invited to a party—a wild Hollywood party set in the Roaring 20s. Queenie and Burrs are your hosts. An intoxicating array of beverages will be served, music and dancing will raise the roof and trouble will most certainly make an appearance. What’s a party without at least a little trouble? Based on Joseph Moncure March's 1928 narrative poem, “The Wild Party” is a steamy prohibition tale driven by one of the most exciting, pulse-racing scores ever written. When you need to cut loose, how far is too far?

Good Kids
By Naomi Iizuka
Directed by Holly Thuma
May 3 – 11

A hard-hitting and clear-eyed look at the troubling aftermath of the sexual assault of a 16-year-old girl by members of a high school football team. Based on actual events, “Good Kids” examines how social media makes private lives public in ways we don't always anticipate and can't always control. At the same time, it sheds light on issues that are often treated as isolated incidents—but which, in truth, reflect attitudes and beliefs prevalent in the culture at large.