Thanks to being located in an urban area with a rich theater scene, Macalester can offer its students plenty of professionals to learn from.
It’s no secret that the Twin Cities is a hotbed for performance: The metro area is second only to New York in terms of theater seats per capita, and boasts more than 100 theaters in all. What’s perhaps less known is how much the Macalester Theatre and Dance Department benefits from its location, giving students the chance to regularly attend performances and work directly with professional artists.
“There's a symbiotic relationship between performance venues in the Twin Cities and Macalester,” says theatre professor and department chair Beth Cleary. “The smart directors and choreographers build relationships with us. We do challenging and controversial performance work at Macalester, and artists like to work here.”
This fall the department has brought in three guest artists to work with students: Luke Olson-Elm, Matt Sciple, and Isabel Nelson ’04. Sciple and Nelson are directing plays, while Olson-Elm is choreographing a piece for the fall dance concert.
“This community is supportive, embracing, and diverse,” says Olson-Elm of the Twin Cities. Director of Lucas Daniel Dance Company and recently nominated for a Minnesota SAGE award for outstanding dance performance, he is choreographing a piece for Mac students that focuses on social media, exploring how people communicate with one another.
Matt Sciple, an actor and director who has worked extensively with Ten Thousand Things Theatre, Park Square Theatre, Theatre in the Round, agrees: “There are lots of ways to get involved with theatre on every level in this town.” Sciple has cast 14 Macalester students in an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, to be performed at the college in November.
In a non-traditional twist, rather than have one actor play Romeo and one Juliet, all the actors cast as Montagues will play Romeo, while all the actors cast as Capulets will play Juliet. “I feel I have something valuable to share,” Sciple says, adding, “If students stay in the Twin Cities and later audition for me, it will certainly be to their advantage that they’ve worked with me before. “
That has certainly been the case for Isabel Nelson ’04, who has later cast actors that she first met while teaching or directing at Mac. She was recently named Best Emerging Artist at the Iveys (an award ceremony recognizing the best of Twin Cities theater) and her theater company, Transatlantic Love Affair, last summer had the top-selling show in the history of the Minnesota Fringe Festival.
This fall she worked with a cast of six first year students on a devised piece of theatre called Sing Protest, Sing Peace, which used physical theatre techniques and song to explore events around the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911.
She recalls that back in her own student days she performed in several shows directed by guest artists, including one by Joel Sass, now artistic director of the Jungle Theatre in Minneapolis.
“Art doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and theater in particular doesn’t happen in a vacuum; it requires a dialogue with a larger community,” says Nelson. “Macalester’s location in the Twin Cities makes that dialogue possible. It allows students to engage in the arts in ways that wouldn’t be possible somewhere else.”