WCSU School of Visual & Performing Arts again takes center stage at International Festival of Arts & Ideas
DANBURY, CONN. — Performers often measure their success by the size and scope of their audience, so being invited to participate in The International Festival of Arts & Ideas that takes place each spring in New Haven can be considered a significant indicator of success for aspiring actors. According to its website, the Connecticut event is a “15-day festival of performing arts, lectures and conversations that celebrates the greatest artists and thinkers from around the world. Each June, the Festival takes over the theaters, open spaces and courtyards of New Haven, Connecticut, attracting an attendance of more than 100,000 to its events ...”
In 2013, WCSU Assistant Professor of Music and Assistant Coordinator of the Jazz Studies program Jimmy Greene received the Governor’s Arts Award at a presentation ceremony and concert during the festival.
This year, students from the WCSU Department of Theatre Arts comprised the featured choir during a performance of David Greig’s “The Events.” The play received the Scotsman Fringe First Award and the Carol Tambor Best of Edinburgh Award during the 2013 Festival Fringe in Scotland, and Western students were participants in the award-winning overseas production.
How Western students became involved in this ground-breaking theatre production was a matter of fate, according to WCSU Professor of Theatre Arts Sal Trapani. They were in Edinburgh last summer to present Trapani’s “Lysistrata: The Disco Vaudeville Rock ’N ’Roll Musical” as part of the Festival Fringe. Sally Christopher, choir wrangler for Greig’s “The Events,” showed up to catch a few numbers during one of Western’s first shows and was impressed enough to ask Trapani if his students wanted to perform in “The Events.”
Trapani said yes, “Not knowing what I was about to get into.” The WCSU performers were invited to a rehearsal the following day.
“We went over the songs,” Trapani said. “Some of my students were given roles, script in hand, to perform during the course of the show. At some point later, the two actors in the show turned up and participated in the rehearsal. We gradually began to understand what the play was about.
“It was a very tough subject about a woman trying to heal herself after a terrible tragedy,” Trapani said. “The proceedings of ‘The Events’ had taken place in Norway two years previously. The genesis for Greig’s story was the mass murder of 69 children by a young man. This subject was very close to our group. We had endured the tragedy of Sandy Hook Elementary School just eight months before. It was an emotional subject that we related to on a number of levels.”
During the Festival Fringe performance, Trapani said Western’s students were onstage at the Traverse Theatre throughout the entire play. That was also the case during the performance at the Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven.
“We were transfixed, as was the audience, at witnessing this brilliant and searing drama,” Trapani said. “We were witnesses — yet we were part of the play. In a sense, we were the subjects of the play. The play is one of healing and redemption. It received universally great reviews and was hailed as a work of power and grace. It garnered the most prestigious award in Edinburgh for festival shows.”
Trapani said that in many ways, for himself and his students, participating in “The Events” was life-changing. “To us, as artists, it demonstrated the power of art and what it means to be part of a community of artists that participates in the healing power of theatre, the synthesis of all the arts. It reinforced the idea that art does matter; that art can heal.”
After the Edinburgh show, the Western company found out that Greig, the playwright, was in the house and had seen the performance.
“Many of us wanted a copy of the script, which was on sale in the café,” Trapani said. “The students asked David to sign copies of his script and he was very nice about that. I introduced myself and we had a chat about a number of topics, including the difficulties the Fringe schedule could present. We talked about ‘Lysistrata’ and he mentioned how wonderful and talented he thought Western’s students are. Then we talked about the process of getting ‘The Events’ ready and how nerve-wracking it is when you are opening a new play — and one that is deemed controversial at that.
“At the end of our conversation,” Trapani said, “I congratulated him on winning the Fringe First Award and told him how fantastic that was for him and the show. He thanked me for that and then said, ‘You know, you are all part of this award too.’ And I thought: ‘Wow. Yes, we are!’”
Western Connecticut State University offers outstanding faculty in a range of quality academic programs. Our diverse university community provides students an enriching and supportive environment that takes advantage of the unique cultural offerings of Western Connecticut and New York. Our vision: To be an affordable public university with the characteristics of New England’s best small private universities.