Across Georgetown University’s campus, in venues large and small, students and faculty have been hard at work painting sets, warming up their voices, running through lines and sourcing costumes, putting countless hours into mounting numerous theater productions. Three of these fall productions — “Rent,” “Dog Act,” and “Love’s Labour’s Lost” — exemplify the dedication of their casts and crews.
Through three wildly different stories –– a rock musical depicting the struggles and joys of a group of New York City artists living amid the AIDS pandemic, a troupe of vaudevillians trekking across the apocalyptic wilderness, and a lighthearted comedy about three friends who try (and fail) to swear off women to focus on their studies — these shows prove how important art and theater are for representing and understanding our current moment.
“Rent,” the groundbreaking and iconic 1996 rock musical that won four Tony awards and ran on Broadway for over a decade, found a new home this year on the Hilltop.
“Rent,” which is being put on by Georgetown’s Nomadic Theatre, a student theater organization whose tagline is “socially engaged and technically ambitious productions,” opened Nov. 10 and will run through Nov. 19.
Director Olivia Martin (COL ’23) said that in her application to direct for Nomadic Theatre, “Rent” was her top choice for the show she wished to direct. “Rent” had been a favorite of Martin’s from a young age because of how it provided her with a story about people who reflected her own identities.
“It was one of the first times I felt really connected to a piece of media and felt like I saw myself in it somehow,” Martin told The Hoya. “It was telling queer stories, but because those stories were being told in a way that felt accessible to me.”
The importance of “Rent” and its representation for underrepresented groups including people of color and the LGBTQ+ community, as well as people with intersecting identities, resonated with other members of the cast as well.
Caitlin Frazier (COL ’23), who played the role of Joanne, said that the show’s diverse cast made her feel at home in the production in a way she hadn’t felt in previous shows.
“Georgetown theater is a very white place, and I honestly had a really tough time with the white plays at the end of last year, as a lot of people did,” Frazier told The Hoya.
Frazier said the show’s diverse cast of characters and history of casting people of color and LGBTQ+ actors for its roles translated to Nomadic Theatre’s casting process as well.
“‘Rent’ is usually cast very diverse, and that has been met to a T in this production,” Frazier said.
Allie Gaudion (COL ’26), assistant director for “Rent,” said the production took the responsibility of diversity and representation seriously.
“We have a dramaturgy team, and their job was to do a lot of research on the time period and the subject matter. We were all aware of the sort of struggles that [the LGBTQ+ community] was going through based on their research,” Gaudion told The Hoya.
Gaudion found that the freedom of a student-run production was especially beneficial for the story that “Rent” tells.
“It’s important that we all have a space to share [our experiences] in this unique way and be able to have control over it ourselves, instead of having to filter it through some other Georgetown Catholic lens,” Gaudion said.
Martin said it was beautiful to see students from marginalized identities taking center stage at Georgetown.
“There’s these sort of beats of pure, absolute, in your face, we’re here and we exist, and it’s so nice to see queer people play those beats. And I think that’s been a real joy for all of us, for me and for the actors,” Martin said.
“Dog Act” is a play that, according to lead actor Jake Teall (COL ’23), is “a fun journey, a way to laugh, something that’s really weird. It’s kind of ridiculous, but once people get past their preconceptions, it’s a really, really fun play to watch, and to be a part of.”
“Dog Act,” written by playwright Liz Duffy Adams, was the first show in the Davis Performing Arts Center 2022-23 Theater and Performance Studies Home season, titled “(W)RIGHT TO BE HUMAN,” running from Nov. 2 to 12.
The department of performing arts brought on Holly Twyford, one of Washington, D.C.’s most famous directors and actors, as a guest director for the production.
Under her direction, the cast and crew brought to life the post-apocalyptic, yet funny and heartwarming world of “Dog Act,” which follows the characters of Rozetta “Zetta” Stone and her companion, Dog, two story-telling vaudevillians, as they travel across the desolate and destroyed North American continent, headed towards China.
For Anna Dewey (COL ’26), who played the lead role of Rozetta Stone, it was her first interaction with Holly Twyford that revealed the growth and community she would experience while working on the show.
“I did my monologue and not only did she give me feedback, but helped me, and we worked through my monologue, which isn’t really what you normally do in an audition,” Dewey told The Hoya.
Teall, who played the character known as “Dog,” found that working with Twyford was an incredible learning opportunity.
“When you’re working with other students, we’re all figuring it out together. Whereas [Twyford] has some really good tricks that she’s found along the way that really work. Being able to implement that into our own processes as actors has been really helpful,” Teall said in an interview with The Hoya. “I think it takes it to a new level.”
Professor Natsu Onoda Power, who worked double duty on “Dog Act” as both the artistic director of the Davis Center and as the show’s set designer, was able to provide valuable mentorship for students separate from academic life, according to Twyford.
“You’re not being directed by people who are also grading you and are also professors that you have outside relationships with. So the director-actor relationship with a guest artist is very different from the director-actor relationship with a faculty member or a student director,” Onoda Power told The Hoya. “It’s its own unique relationship that is worth having.”
For Dewey, the themes ingrained within the post-apocalyptic setting of the show evoke social issues that populate news headlines today.
“There’s elements of climate change and tyranny and warfare because these sort of horrible things have had to happen in order for this apocalypse to occur,” Dewey said.
Onoda Power used images of plastic wasteland and the Fukushima disaster as the inspiration for the set. She found images from Fukushima to strike at the heart of the setting of “Dog Act.”
“Contemporary events like that really resonated with me and with the play,” Onoda Power said. “Especially in seeing people trying to thrive and live in an environment that’s been completely destroyed.”
Teall also found that “Dog Act” dealt with themes of dealing with isolation through community, which he found related to the Georgetown population and college students in general.
“In the play, everyone is choosing who they consider their family. On a college campus, a lot of people are not living with their blood relatives. We’re choosing our family like the characters,” Teall said.
For Dewey, the biggest challenge of her role in “Dog Act” was parsing out the complicated language of her character.
“Instead of binding contract, I say blinding contract or snowed up instead of showed. I think getting all those little discrepancies in my head and remembering them the incorrect way was a challenge,” Dewey said.
Teall also found acting out the script to be a challenge due to both the extreme level of detail of the script and the high-stakes elements of the plot.
“My character has an action that allows a thousand people to die. I personally can’t tie back a direct action where I have caused people to die, so working together with my scene partners to create the weight of that has been really challenging, but very fulfilling,” Teall said.
The challenge was ultimately rewarding, as the cast and crew were able to create a “Dog Act” that, according to Teall, was enjoyable while also encouraging the audience to ponder deep questions about life.
“It was meaningful and valuable and asked a lot of questions while also having a rehearsal process that’s fulfilling and fun,” Teall said.
Love’s Labour’s Lost
A lesser-known Shakespearean comedy with a 20th century — and Georgetown-centric — twist, running from Oct. 27 to Nov. 5, “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” William Shakespeare’s ninth play, was performed at Poulton Hall by Mask and Bauble, one of Georgetown’s many student theater organizations.
The comedy, which centers around three noblemen who agree to swear off women for three years to focus on their studies, was adapted to the setting of Georgetown in the 1960s. The noblemen become college students, and their vow is tested by the introduction of women to the university. This was borrowed from Georgetown’s own history, as Georgetown College first began accepting female students in the 1960s.
Scott Burke (COL ’26) played the role of Berowne, one of the trio of students who initially chafes against the pact. Later, along with his friends, Berowne fails to hold up his promise. The discomfort that this situation produces was one of the main reasons Mask and Bauble chose to adapt the play.
Burke said that Mask and Bauble chose to set the play at Georgetown — rather than its usual setting of 16th-century Spain — after noticing how the tension between love and studying that was a central theme of the play also applied to the modern day university setting.
“Obviously today there aren’t students swearing oaths not to date women in college, but there’s still that tension that is very real at academically rigorous universities like Georgetown, where you want to focus on your studies, but yes, there are more things in life than just studying,” Burke told The Hoya.
Sasha Montefiore (COL ’25), who played the role of Armado — a courtier who falls hopelessly in love with the character Jaquenetta who is in love with another — said Shakespeare brought out complexities in the text.
Burke said the language of Shakespeare was a barrier for the cast initially, but once they had gotten comfortable with it, they were able to appreciate the power of the words and use it to their advantage in their performances.
“There are tools within the text that you can use as well to help inform your acting choices,” Burke said.
Burke studied the rhyme of his lines and dissected meter changes to help him prepare for his performance — which included the longest speech in all of Shakespeare’s works.
“You have this really immensely powerful tool at your disposal, and it’s your job to let those words speak for that,” Burke said.
He also discussed specifically how he studied the rhyme and meter of the text to help him make acting decisions.
“‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’ I think has the highest ratio of rhymed verse to unrhymed verse of any Shakespearean comedy or play, and that means the rhyme is really important, and in rhyme, there’s meter. And when the meter changes, that means something. So there are tools within the text you can use as well to inform your acting choices,” Burke said.
Montefiore said that the opportunity to put on a performance in Riggs Library led the actors to perform in new ways. With only two hours to rehearse in the new environment before performing there, the cast was energized to put on their best performance possible.
“Doing it in the same place, it gets repetitive – [the performance] revitalized it, I definitely got a lot more energy from doing that, which pushed me into the next week of performances,” Montefiore said.
Being in the new performance space also inspired the actors to engage with each other in new ways, as interacting in the new space made their performances feel more honest and natural. New acting choices were made as well, including one actor’s impromptu choice to read a letter directly to an audience member, which was adopted to be used in the following few performances.
“Samuel, who plays the king, he has this love letter that he’s reading to his mistress, out in the nowhere, and then he decided to read it to a girl in the front row, and that was a choice made in Riggs, inspired by Riggs, that we ended up taking back and using in the rest of the production,” Burke said.
The new energy gained from performing at Riggs was evident to everyone in the cast, and they carried that energy with them to the rest of the show’s run.
“Paul, our director, said afterwards, ‘That’s so great, you were having so much fun with it. Let’s bring that to Poulton,’ and I think we did,” Montefiore said.
Although at the beginning of the process Burke and Montefiore described the atmosphere within the cast as stagnant and somewhat stiff, by the end they had become kin. Most of all, Montefiore appreciated the friendships he built within the cast, which grew closer over the course of their long rehearsals and various performances.
“Being on stage is so unique, there is no other feeling like it really,” Montefiore said. “But it was actually the people who were the most fun for me. You get to know these people so, so well, so that was very special.”