The audience waits in anticipation at the Barn Theater as the lights dim and the television sets flicker. Characters on the screen tell them that this is the 30th anniversary of Chautauqua.
So began Chautauqua 2009, and the audience appeared full of enthusiasm. Amid the hollers and applause, the stage lights brightened to reveal the first play of the evening.
“Chautauqua is a theater festival of all student-written plays, produced by students, directed by students, starring students,” first-year Josh Benson-Merron said. “It enables students to get involved in every aspect of theater and lets student playwrights see their work performed onstage.”
The festival incorporates all-student writing, acting, technical theater, directing and organization into one five-unit class. The oddly named festival is attributed to a series of theater festivals held in Lake Chautauqua, NY, over a century ago.
Preparations start at the beginning of spring quarter. Chautauqua students learn every component of theatrical productions and work to have their original creations showcased.
Benson-Merron acted in the play “A Scene,” as well as coordinating the set and props for another play.
“Everyone in Chautauqua is required to complete multiple jobs to meet the standards of the production,” he said.
Running through closing night this Sunday, May 31, Chautauqua hosts 10 different student plays over the course of nine showings. Each weekend provides a new batch of entertainment.
One of these productions was the comedy “Melting Point,” written by Brian Billard and directed by Holly Nichols. “Melting Point” chronicles the day when a homeless man predicts the end of the world.
“Melting Point ran during program B,” said first-year Spencer Fortin, a member of the “Melting Point” cast. “I played a rather snobbish guy who encounters a very vocal homeless man while I’m waiting to go on a date.”
One distinctive feature of Chautauqua is the ability for students, particularly first-years, to get their first taste of theater at UCSC. By participating in Chautauqua students can learn the ropes of the theater department and use their experiences in future theater productions at UCSC and beyond.
“I’m considering joining Chautauqua next year because the show that I went to was so good,” second-year Sarah Brown said. “It’s getting me excited to get back into theater, and [Chautauqua] seems like a good outlet to do so.”
All students who sign up for Chautauqua during class selections are admitted entry to the program. An acting part in one of the plays requires an audition.
Chautauqua is held in the Barn Theater at the base of campus May 28 through 31, for those who want to catch the final set of performances. Tickets are free and all are welcome to attend.
“Chautauqua is important,” first-year Spencer Fortin said. “It has given me a lot of opportunity to act and work in theater. And plus, it’s free.”