On Friday, Nov. 5, Middlebury College’s Theatre Think Tank (TTT) hosted its inaugural meeting. The new group focuses on providing students with a low-stakes environment to share their performing arts talent, including acting, screenplays, improv, stand-up, poetry, drag and everything in between. Students can present their work, sign up for roles in their peers’ productions, or even add their names to a list to get a cold call to perform. They now meet on the first Friday of every month at the Hepburn Zoo.
Shortly before the gathering, students began to fill into the cozy Hepburn attic that serves as a retrofitted black box theater. When about fifteen or so people occupied the room, founders Bella Costanion-Carrigan ’22, Annabelle Iredale ’23.5 and Madison Middleton ’22.5, Middlebury’s student theatre representatives, gathered the audience’s attention and explained the purpose of their project. As students deeply invested in the college’s theatre department, they realized how the department’s intense time commitments often exclude many talented prospective students from participating in performing arts.
“We wanted to build a community around theatre for everyone by eliminating the time constraints like sports or classes. Now, all you have to do is sign up to get a script or a cold call, and you can perform each month,” said Costanion-Carrigan. “We also want it to be a place where people can be vulnerable and share art with a receiving audience to get artistic support.”
Theatre Think Tank is meant to be a casual, open space for students to pursue the performing arts, regardless of their talent or art of choice. The organization aims to ease the creative pressures often found when working with faculty in the theater department. “We are a space where you can explore with no fear of judgement. We all just want to have fun and get creative,” said Constanion-Carrigan.
“Ideally this space is welcoming to people at all levels of experience and interest in the performing arts. I'd also love to see people bringing in different types of media. TTT is a space for anything and everything: poetry, improv, stand-up comedy, drag and more,” Costanion-Carrigan said.
After the commencement speech, the night’s performances began. The opening act was a student-written scene by Kayla Schwartz ’23.5 set on campus during the first days of the pandemic. As the unforgettable week progresses, the witty characters wrestle with intense fear, continued academic responsibilities and spontaneous sexual connections during their final hours before heading home into the unknown.
Next, the audience was treated to the breakup of two long-term lovers. The heartfelt scene was written by organizer Constanion-Carrigan and tastefully discussed how the permanence of the past directs the course of the future, integrating comedy and theatrical absurdity with the very real emotions of a dying romance. The third scene was a presentation of Masha Makutonina’s ’21.5 screenplay, presented with two contrasting reiterations. After watching both, the audience was then invited to share their thoughts on the two, demonstrating the think tank nature of the program.
The night closed out with an energetic performance of “The Death of Trotsky” from David Ives’ “All in the Timing” followed by a wonderful poem on masculinity by Jacob Raymond ’23.
Each set concluded with an open dialogue with the audience, benefiting directors, performers, and viewers alike. Directors and performers received feedback on their artistic choices and audiences got a better understanding of what they watched.
The founders were pleasantly surprised by the audience’s voluntary participation. Constructive feedback fostered a healthy workshop atmosphere, allowing writers and performers alike to have a better awareness of how their scene plays.
“I think the purpose was achieved tonight. It’s been a project we’ve been working on for months and it’s great to see it happen. Looking forward, I am excited to see more shows and new faces,” said Iredale.
With a similar atmosphere to Wednesday Open Mic Performances or Middlebury Discount Comedy, Theatre Think Tank looks forward to cultivating a healthy community to perform, engage in artistic dialogue, and to make new friends interested in theater.
“Theatre Think Tank is open to everyone. It thrives when fueled by multiple communities and types of artists. Come share your work, whether it's theatre-based or not. ‘Finished’ or not. Serious or not. Perfection discouraged. So why not spend an hour with other creatives?” said Middleton in an interview with The Campus.