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    Eleven Southwestern students and three faculty members are heading to the town of Smolyan, Bulgaria, this summer to participate in the Rhodopi International Theater Laboratory.

Southwestern students, faculty members participating in international theatre-training program in Bulgaria this month

A group of Southwestern theatre students and faculty members are heading to Bulgaria this month to participate in a month-long international theatre-training program. During the program, they will have the opportunity to see an original play they developed performed.

The play is about Eshu, a legendary character of the Yoruba people, who are the largest ethnic group in western Africa. Sergio Costola, assistant professor of theatre, and Rick Roemer, professor of theatre, received a $20,400 grant from Southwestern to develop a performance piece about Eshu that is specifically designed for children.

The piece will be performed Aug. 8-10 at the Leon Katz Rhodopi International Theater Laboratory (RITL), a unique theatre-training program in Bulgaria. The program was created four years ago to advance theater technique through collaboration of theater practitioners, scholars and students from around the world. Students re-contextualize and recreate international legends and folk tales through workshops, seminars, performances, excursions, readings and collaborations with professional artists-in-residence.

RITL is held in Smolyan, a town in the Rhodopi Mountains near Bulgaria’s border with Greece. The Rhodopi Mountains are the mythological origins of Western theater, music and performance. This year’s program will be held July 10 - Aug. 10.

Five Southwestern students − Kerstin Heitzke, Tyler King, Molly Rice, Hannah Rose and Becca Plunkett − spent the spring semester researching Eshu along with Costola and Roemer. They have researched how this character connects with different folklores from around the world, including Br’er Rabbit, the Wandering Jew, and other examples where a “trickster” figure plays an important role. In May, they started writing the piece in collaboration with Jared Stein, visiting professor of theatre at Southwestern and the director of Fourthworld Theatre Projects, the organization behind the RITL.

The Eshu piece will be performed by high school students from the Bulgarian theatre academy. These students will then tour the play to elementary schools in Smolyan during the 2009-2010 academic year. The play will be brought back to Southwestern and presented as part of the Theatre Department’s Theatre For Young Audiences program in 2010-2011.

A total of 11 Southwestern students and two alumni are attending the program in Bulgaria this summer, along with Costola, Roemer and Stein. This is the fourth year Southwestern faculty members have taken students to Bulgaria.

“Students understand that theatre, nowadays, is a minority genre of performance compared to other genres such as movies and TV,” Costola said. “It can only survive if it creates connections with other parts of the world, connecting professional experiences, dreams, and know-how. RITL offers them this possibility.”

Costola noted that the 2009 performance of an original opera titled “The Color of Dissonance” at Southwestern was a perfect example of this since several of the key people involved with that performance have all been associated with RITL at some point.  

Tyler King, a sophomore theatre major, is attending RITL for the first time this year. “I’m looking to do theatre art in a more international scale and this seemed like a nice segue for that,” he said.

Other students attending the program this summer include Alexis Armstrong, Zachary Carr, Adrian Gonzalez, Jennifer Gregory, Jessica Hughes and Kinsey Keck. All received grants from Fourthworld Theatre Projects to help pay for their trip.