On Stage

Campus Collective

Western Summer Theatre returns

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

When he’s not fishing for trout, gardening or canoeing to Mud Bay, Western Washington University theater professor Rich Brown spends the warmer months of the year helping ensure Western Summer Theatre (WST) entertains the masses.

Once again, “Commedia in the Park” will jump-start the season with free performances July 20-21 at Bellingham’s Maritime Heritage Park.

“Commedia Dell’Arte is a form of popular, ‘low comedy’ theatre that first began in Italy in the 1550s,” Brown explains. “It was born in the streets and markets as theater for the people. It consists of known stock characters such as the greedy old man, the tricky servants, the young lovers and the braggart Captain. Each character has a specific mask and stock physicality. The players create an outline for each scene, but each performance changes through improvisation based on the audience’s response. The goal is always laughter.”

In the weeks before the public performances, students work with Brown and other instructors to create the shows, which differ from year to year. In order to embody the larger-than-life characters, part of their rehearsal process involves plenty of cardio and strength work to help prepare them for the physical challenges.

Because many of the students are in more than one Western Summer Theatre production, that training also helps get them through to the next shows—which include Graffiti Dance Theater (July 27-29), Young Frankenstein (Aug. 22-26), The Glass Menagerie (Aug. 29-Sept. 2), and I Began Anyway (Sept. 5-9).

“I’m excited about all of our shows,” Brown says. “It’s a unique season with lots of variety. The theme is ‘New York to Bellingham,’ as guest director Lamby Hedge returns to direct The Glass Menagerie, and Jessica Burr and Matt Opatrny, founders of the NYC-based company Blessed Unrest, will be joining us for the first time to devise the original work I Began Anyway.”

By the final production, the students who’ve spent July through September learning how to tell stories through theater will have more resources to fall back on, which is a primary a goal of Western Summer Theatre.

“It’s different from our university season in that it’s a combination of professionals and our top students and alums who make up the company,” Brown says. “We import professional directors, playwrights and designers to share their talents with Bellingham and to work directly with our students, which raises their game.

“Also, the students are involved in many of the shows in different roles, so they might act in one, run the light board for another, and build the sets or costumes for a third—it’s wholistic theatre training .”

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