By Lauren Katz
Do I go for the dream? Or do I play it safe? Kenyon seniors have been contemplating those very questions for months. In 2011, four Kenyon alumni chose the dream. Kate Hamilton ’09, Maria Krovatin ’10, Drew Lewis ’10 and Will Dagger ’10 started Calliope, a theater company based in New York City — but they did not stop there. To date, Calliope has involved 24 Kenyon alumni in positions ranging from acting and stage management to photography and music.
Beginning with little experience, the company’s staff knew they would have to get creative to find success. Luckily for them, they enjoyed the risk.
“I think we had a common awareness that, if we wanted to work in the theater in New York City, we would have to create our own work,” Lewis said. “And we’ve stuck with that to this day.”
The lack of experience was challenging, but Calliope was determined to utilize their community.
“Without much in the way of a specific voice or mission statement, we presented a one-act festival, a full-length play, two concerts, two playwright retreats and a radio play, all involving Kenyon alums,” Dagger said.
Since that beginning, Calliope has grown in size. About a year ago, Calliope welcomed Matt Crowley ’11 and Rachel Sachnoff ’12 on board. Crowley and Sachnoff came on the team just in time for last summer’s production of Six Windows Presents a Hero of Our Time, a three-act production.
“We surrounded ourselves with incredibly talented people, many of them old friends, and put up an exciting, original work in an incredibly hot, sweaty, dirty old theater,” Lewis said. “It was a summer I will never forget.”
However, a major learning point from this play was the new method of creating theater through collaboration. The company has utilized a form of improvisation in developing stories.
“It’s Calliope’s signature thing,” Sachnoff said. “While we are improvising, our words are being transcribed or recorded, and the director-slash-writer chooses which lines of dialogue we improvised that they want in the show.”
Dagger said, “At every step of creating and staging the script we’re asking, ‘How truthful can this be? How can we make the structure and character intentions just visible enough to keep the audience engaged while retaining the mystery and complexity of real human emotion and interaction?’”
Since Six Windows Presents a Hero of Our Time, Calliope has produced another large-scale production called Eye Made Quiet. Written and directed by Dagger, the play utilized a similar form of improvisation.
“Over the course of nine months, we devised a two-act play with 12 actors through long-form improvisation,” Dagger said. “Loosely inspired by William Wordsworth’s ‘Tintern Abbey,’ the play followed various members of a tech start-up company who have created a mobile music app that promises to change your brain and make you more empathetic.”
The performers say the use of improvisation and collaboration has had a positive impact.
“It not only brings the cast together, … but it also makes every member of the show feel such a sense of ownership over what they have contributed,” Sachnoff said.
“The whole process of having people come in with a character, and then improvise, improvise, improvise, and then turn that into a piece, is something really unique that I don’t think other people are doing,” Crowley said.
Crowley utilized a similar technique in Calliope’s most recent project, Dear Deidre, which he both wrote and directed. The show played from Oct. 31 through Nov. 1 at the Drilling Company on the Upper West Side, and was comprised entirely of Kenyon alumni.
Having Kenyon alumni in New York City has provided Calliope with a community of support, which has proved invaluable to the process.
“One really great thing about the [Kenyon Drama Department] is that there is a strong community of passionate artists,” Crowley said.
“It’s pretty crazy how many Kenyon grads are doing things in New York, and then how many of them are doing them together,” Dagger said. “I feel very lucky.”
The members of Calliope realize they are fortunate to have found their outlet, and advise Kenyon drama majors to never give up.
“Don’t expect it to all happen at once. Or at all,” Lewis said. “Write plays. Direct plays. … Always say ‘yes’ until you reach a point where you think it’s time to learn how to say ‘no.’”
“I think it’s important to work hard and not wait for permission,” Crowley said. “You really have to just start doing stuff and say, ‘This is what I want to do.’ If you keep working at it, then eventually it will lead to more successes.”