The Colgate Scene
If they can make it there...
The Bobik Arts Ensemble takes to the stage in NYC
|By Gary E. Frank|
(Left to right) Bobik Arts Ensemble members Carolyn Fischer '00, Lucy McMichael, Lilah Fisher '99, Jeffery Wise '00, Michael Torpey '03 (behind Wise), Christiaan Greer '00, Damen Scranton and Katy Burfitt '01 on the set of their recent production of Greer's play, Coming and Going, at the Independent Theater in New York City. [Enlarge] [Photos by Timothy D. Sofranko]
You can wait for your dreams to come true, or you can set out to bring them to fruition yourself.
The Bobik Arts Ensemble has clearly chosen the latter course.
In the often-pitiless theater world of New York City, that the ensemble founded by several Colgate alumni has successfully staged four productions is something from which its members draw justifiable pride, even as they realize that success raises expectations for the next time.
A self-described "New York City collective of writers, actors, dancers, comedians, musicians, filmmakers, technicians, designers and directors," the ensemble has its roots in a 1999 production of Anton Chekov's Three Sisters at Colgate that several of its members were in. (Bobik is the name of a character in the play.)
"Bobik is a bratty little kid, and we joked about starting a theater company called the Bobik Arts Ensemble," said Lilah Fisher '99. "When I was in New York after graduation, we all said, `Let's do it.'"
Initially paying for production expenses out of their own pockets, the ensemble's first three productions were the drama Piece of Mind by Kari Nielsen '99, Brush Them Fleas, a comedy by Tara Meddaugh '99, and Manuel Puig's Under A Mantle of Stars. (Puig is best known for his play, Kiss of the Spider Woman.)
The ensemble's fourth production, Coming and Going -- a drama written by Christiaan Greer '00, was staged in the Independent Theater in New York City's West Village. To reach the performance space, one must walk through a narrow alleyway and up a flight of fire-escape-like iron stairs. Halfway through the play's two-week run in December, the cast and crew were weary but pleased with the audience response to Coming and Going, a play about two estranged brothers who meet for the first time in years. Their strained encounter is intertwined with the story of three generations of their dysfunctional family as it wrestles with issues of addiction, abandonment and the value of kinship.
"It's sort of like graduate school in that it's a few years of doing great work and learning together," said Carolyn Fischer '00, who is one of the few Bobik members to hold an Actor's Equity card. "I think this is better because it's easier on finances than graduate school, but because we all know each other it's a different kind of connection than what you would get with a random group of people that you don't necessarily know."
Michael Torpey '02, one of Bobik's newest members, agrees.
"I got a chance to come straight out of college and immediately do a show in New York City, which I assume is very rare for recent graduates," Torpey said. "I can just picture myself coming out of college, not knowing anyone in New York, picking up Backstage, getting an audition and maybe getting a role in a new show, but then not knowing anyone in it, being the youngest member of the cast, and feeling very uncomfortable as opposed to coming in here as the youngest cast member but feeling I can take any risk that I felt like taking."
"I've gotten to do three plays in New York City, which I don't know if I could have done otherwise," said Fisher, who is a student at the Actor's Center. "It's given me some confidence that I can do whatever I put my mind to, and it's given me a sense of ownership over my artistry."
The communal feeling within the ensemble is also poignantly reflected in a photograph of Robert MacDonald '98 that is displayed at every production. In 2000, shortly before he was to appear in Piece of Mind, MacDonald was killed in a hiking accident in western Massachusetts.
"He was a great actor," said Fisher. "We miss him very much."
Lilah Fisher and Michael Torpey perform an angst-filled scene from Coming and Going.
A streamlet to New York
Jacques Levy, professor of English and director of University Theater, believes Bobik has a better chance than most budding theater ensembles to do just that.
"I tend not to advise people to go into theater because it's so difficult to make a living," Levy said. "This is a group of young people who were not to be denied. When they went down to New York and told me they were going to start a theater group, I was quite delighted and did what I could to help them. What I'm especially pleased about is that they've created a streamlet that goes from Colgate to New York without having to come up against the rigors and difficulties of commercial theater. I think that's quite wonderful."
Levy believes that Bobik will be sustained by that "streamlet" because the ensemble will attract more Colgate students and graduates interested in attempting a theater career. He hopes to direct a Bobik production within the next year.
"I think they are an exciting group of young people to work with," he said. "I was very impressed by what I saw in their last production [Coming and Going]. I was very excited by the idea that this full-length play was written by a student of mine [Greer]. He's done a wonderful job with this play."
But becoming the next Steppenwolf Theatre Company will hardly be easy, and Bobik's members realize they have some growing pains to endure as they move ahead.
"If we want to keep moving forward, we're going to have to do a lot of restructuring and really think about what our long-term goals are," said Fisher.
"Colgate isn't known as a theater school and I didn't necessarily go there wanting to do theater," said Paul Kuhne '01, the ensemble's ticket manager. "But in theater we all found something very unique and special at Colgate, and it really was an integral part of our Colgate experiences. It's great to be able to capture that spirit again."
(For more information on the Bobik Arts Ensemble, call 212-989-0832. The Bobik website is www.bobikarts.com)
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