Arts-Intensive Collaboration Births New Play

January 9, 2013

Amanda Nagy

Students and instructor
Raymond Bobgan, CPT artistic director (center), and students rehearse in December.
Photo credit: Daniel R. James

For a group of 16 students throughout the college and conservatory, fall semester didn’t end with traditional exams. The students enrolled in Oberlin’s first arts-intensive semester (OASIS)—a pilot program that takes a collaborative approach to the arts—became immersed in two weeks of intensive classes and workshops with professionals from Cleveland Public Theatre (CPT), often working late in the evening.

Throughout winter term, the students are living and rehearsing in Cleveland, where they will perform an original play at Gordon Square Theatre. The play, Water Ways, was created over the course of the semester under the guidance of CPT Executive Artistic Director Raymond Bobgan and Education Director Chris Seibert.

OASIS is a pilot project spearheaded by Dance Professor Nusha Martynuk. For the students enrolled, the fall semester consisted of five integrated arts courses. Martynuk modeled the project after immersive study away programs—particularly the Oberlin-in-London program, a remote campus of Oberlin College where a small group of students and faculty study each spring semester. Given Oberlin’s rich ties to the arts in Cleveland, it only made sense to bring Oberlin to Cleveland for winter term. For two weeks in January, students are staying at the Cleveland Hostel in Ohio City.

“We talk all the time about collaborative teaching and working across disciplines. We talk all the time about hands-on learning and professional experiences. Oberlin has people who are doing all that work,” Martynuk says. “But I think, why aren’t we doing more of it?”

OASIS drew students and faculty from different departments throughout the college and conservatory, including creative writing, cinema studies, technology in music and related arts (TIMARA), and theater and dance. The semester offered five integrated courses, including the capstone course, Oberlin Arts Intensive, which began and ended with two weeks of intensive workshops on narrative performance with CPT’s guest artists; and Seeing Work out of Oberlin, which took students to Ann Arbor, Cleveland, Columbus, and Pittsburgh to see performances.

Throughout the semester, students developed an original play, Water Ways, which they will perform January 24 through February 4 at Gordon Square Theatre in Cleveland. Water Ways is the first of a five-part series, The Elements Cycle, being created by CPT. The series “tests our own preconceived relationships with the environment, and seeks to raise awareness and promote deep thinking about our place in the world,” according to CPT.

Water Ways focuses on the human connection to water and the region’s reliance on the Great Lakes as a water source. In one of the courses, students went to Cleveland to take a tour of the sewer district’s water treatment plant and the Division of Water’s facility. “It was beautiful to look at, and a really interesting opportunity to talk about the way in which Lake Erie interacts with Cleveland,” Martynuk says.

Lisa Yanofsky, a fifth-year double degree student, says OASIS has been one of the most exciting learning environments at Oberlin. “The program is many different things: screenings, debates, discussions, field trips, performances, critiques, studio classes, music lessons, and cinema studies classes. Everyone comes to class with the most astounding thoughts and concepts for work. Making art and finding joy in art is much harder than it sounds, and I appreciate the laughter that my peers and professors and I share.”

The arts-intensive experience has helped students explore collaboration in a deep and sustained way in a high-pressure, real-world environment, says Bobgan. “Everyone involved in the project needed to stretch beyond past accomplishments and find new ways of working that serve a bigger vision than any one individual and provide a meaningful impact to a professional theater audience.”

The project involved considerable collaboration among the faculty teaching the courses — a factor that Martynuk says would have not been possible without outside funding and support from the college.

Support for the OASIS project was provided by the Great Lakes Colleges Association as part of its New Directions Initiative, made possible by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; as well as the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District. Additional support came from the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and the theater and dance program.

Martynuk says plans are under way for a smaller version of the arts-intensive semester in spring 2014.  

Tickets for Water Ways can be purchased on CPT’s website. Performances will be 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Monday, January 24 through February 4, at Gordon Square Theatre, 6415 Detroit Ave. Tickets are $10 to $25.

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