UCSB’s Summer Theater Lab, a Meeting of Creative Minds

by Sophia Kercher

ucsb-theater-lab-naomi-iizu.jpgUCSB’s Summer Theater Lab, a three-week
forum in which theater artists from all over the country are
invited to work with students and develop works for the stage, is
like a summer fling: tender, experimental, poly-amorous, and
thrilling. Each year approximately 100 individuals — actors,
directors, playwrights, dancers, choreographers, and music
composers — gather here to form a community, bounce ideas off one
another, and create passionate works of theater. These projects
began July 14 and ran through August 4, with nearly all classes and
performances held at UCSB’s Performing Arts Theater. Amelia Harris,
a fourth-year Dramatic Arts student, said, “Summer Theater Lab is
really, really fun before everything else. It doesn’t feel like
doing work. I just feel like [I’m at] summer camp … you are with
your friends all the time, and all your friends are other artists.
So you’re just talking about art all the time, and doing art all
the time. … It’s really focused and condensed.” This is Harris’s
second year attending the lab, and she has taken part in numerous
projects, including a site-specific dance piece, a play for the
Sloan Projects, and two other new plays: Telethon and Big Baby.

The work presented at the lab ranges from traditional plays to
experimental movement pieces. The performances are often a bit
rough around the edges — open and vulnerable — which adds to the
thrill of seeing the work performed. The audience gets caught up in
this love affair with theater, and involved in the passion and
excitement of all that is fresh and new, floating from artist to

theater-lab_sillystring.jpgThere have been several highlights
produced in the lab so far this season. This Show Is Not “Wind
Beneath My Wings” is a solo performance piece by Luis Alfaro, a
renowned writer/performer who revealed glimpses of his childhood
not only through his animated storytelling, but also by singing,
stuffing his face with two boxes of Twinkies, and throwing back a
dozen shots of tequila! The dance performance titled The Other Side
of a Howling Flower, directed and choreographed by Nami Yamamoto,
was zany, quirky, bouncy, and experimental. In The Book of Daniel
writer/director Daniel Alexander Jones dressed up in drag as
Josephine Baker while figures of himself performed by two students
recited his childhood memories, accompanied by original music.

The Sloan Projects, in association with the Magic Theatre and
the Sloan Foundation, featured eight original plays by UCSB
students that explore the ethics of stem-cell research. The plays
addressed the social ramifications of the issue, and featured
clones, mythical Jewish creatures, and controversies in the White
House. Telethon, a play by Kirsten Newbon that was directed by Les
Waters, used humorous characters and a variety of media to explore
the relationships of physically and mentally disabled individuals
with those who take care of them.

The collaborative work of students and master artists is what
makes this artists’ haven so stimulating to observe. Waters, the
associate artistic director of Berkeley Repertory Theater and an
award-winning director, said the lab creates “a very good
atmosphere, unlike a lot of summer or new play festivals.” Newbon,
his colleague, added, “It’s like an arts vacation. I feel really
sort of inspired by the other people here, by the students, by the
generosity of spirit … [the students] don’t resist, which is nice.
They just seem to go.”

Besides being highly entertaining, the performances are not
lengthy. “You can really dip in for an hour and get inspired,” said
Naomi Iizuka, the founder/organizer of the Summer Theater Lab.
Iizuka — a UCSB professor and award-winning playwright — created
the lab to bring theater artists to UCSB who had inspired her, to
come and work with her students, so that her students could in
return inspire them. Bringing together two parts of her life, she
has created a tremendous opportunity for all who participate, and a
supportive community of talented theater artists for novices and
masters alike.

To see the products of the lab’s works is to be enlightened and
inspired. If you missed out on this year’s Summer Theater Lab
performances, be sure to look out for the innovative works next
year starting in late July. All performances are free and open to
the public.


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