January 31, 2015
Three years ago, Hamilton College’s Theatre Department developed the Bare Naked Theatre, which would help to support student and faculty projects that would not fit within any other programs offered by the Theatre Department. These independent projects would be presented to a board for approval and provided with a modest budget afterward.
Last spring, Eliza Burwell ’17 and Charlie Wilson ’16 envisioned an entirely student-run performance of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, a one-act musical comedy. Students would produce it with funding from student theatre group Untitled@Large through the Student Assembly, as well as with the support of the Bare Naked Theatre, to represent the very first entirely student-run production to be put on in this manner. During the months of June through October, Burwell and Wilson met with members of the Hamilton College faculty to discuss plans for actualizing this dream. Burwell, as a Music/Theatre double major, would function as the music director and co-producer, and would also play keyboard in the pit orchestra. Wilson has performed in many Hamilton productions as an actor himself, but for this project he would become the director and co-producer.
Professor Mark Cryer acted as a liaison between the students and the Theatre Department. He, along with several other faculty members, helped to negotiate a contract and secure funding for the project. As the plan began to take shape, Burwell and Wilson reached out to other students to expand the production staff. This ultimately included Rachel Eimas-Dietrich ’17 as stage manager, Sarah Hoover ’18 as properties manager and Chris Williams ’17 as technical/lighting designer.
Auditions to fill in the cast and pit orchestra were held at the end of September. A total of nine actors and eight musicians were accepted and thrice weekly rehearsals began for each group beginning in October. Adelaide Fuller ’17 directed the orchestra. The 23 students involved even came back from winter break a week early to ensure that everything was in order in time for the performance, which was to be held in the Barrett Theatre in the new Kennedy Center.
Burwell commented that an entirely student-run production in the new theatre is especially significant this year, as the new arts building has just opened. She said, “It seemed like a good idea to show alums that we’re actually using the new theatres their money has given us.” The new spaces are most certainly being used to their utmost advantage— and their use has been very popular.
As soon as tickets were made available, both of the originally scheduled shows were completely sold out within the first six hours. The musical was so popular that the group elected to stage a matinée performance— this one without the option of reservation—in order to appease the many disappointed fans who had not been able to reserve tickets originally.
Finally, the weekend of the performances arrived. The new Barrett Theatre was completely packed. Chairs for the audience were set all the way up to the stage, almost too close for comfort. Without a doubt the show is fun and funny, and was carried out flawlessly by the students. It was originally conceived of as an improvisational play, and elements of this improvised foundation were peppered throughout the production. Audience members were pulled in to participate and were mocked by members of the cast, and several lines were twisted to incorporate current popular culture references.
The show overall was very cleverly executed. The orchestra played wonderfully, providing a perfect dramatic backdrop against which the actors could sing their hilarious numbers – a crowd favorite being “My Unfortunate Erection,” sung by Ben Goldman ’17. Every member of the cast and orchestra performed beautifully.
Mark Cryer commented, “with the addition of the new building and a second theatre, these student generated productions are easier to produce and will become regular staples of the theatre department and on campus.” The success of this performance will most certainly encourage more students to work with the Bare Naked Theatre to produce their own performances in the future.