New York Times
July 28, 1985
Students Earn Equity Points at Vassar This Summer
by Nan Robertson
burning subject at Vassar this summer is theater.
Double Image Theater, an Off Off Broadway company, has begun its
first season of summer repertory here in an idyllic, unpressured
setting, polishing and presenting a classic and two new plays at
the Hallie Flanagan Davis Powerhouse Theater. The new
plays will be taken to New York City in the fall. In
exchange, Double Image's professionals and members of Vassar's
drama faculty are teaching theater arts to 31 apprentices picked
during auditions last spring.
theater students from colleges throughout the United States and
Canada are earning both college credits and Actors Equity points
toward union membership. In addition, they are getting
on-the-job training from professional actors, directors,
playwrights and stage managers who, one student said, seemed as
''distant as gods'' before. The cost of all of this for
each apprentice, including room and board, is $2,300 for seven
is footing half the projected production deficit of $60,000 and
lending its underused facilities, from the theater to
dormitories and carpenter shops. Earned income, including
theater tickets, will make up the rest of the $130,000 summer
repertory budget. "It would be much more difficult to
accomplish this alone," said Leslie Urdang, Double Image's
professionals say they are energized by all the eager
neophytes. The head of Vassar's drama department, Evert
Sprinchorn, who has taught dramatic literature "from the
Greeks to Pinter" to such Vassar alumnae as Meryl Streep
and Frances Sternhagen, is impressed by the apprentices.
He calls them ''bolder and more focused'' than his typical
can't really pinpoint yet what I'm learning, but I'm learning a
lot," said Catherine McNally, a graduate of Queen's
University in Kingston, Ontario. Stephen Weser, from
Incarnate Word College in San Antonio, says the Vassar
experience "is all about watching." Many feel
that simply getting to know the professionals, observing them
onstage and backstage as well as listening to them in class,
seems more immediately valuable than what they are learning from
Vassar's professors. "We're all in college
anyhow," explained Marsha Carlson of the University of
Pittsburgh, who prefers to be called by her nickname, George.
apprentices' pet teacher appears to be Mary McDonnell, an
intense and affectionate actress who originated the role of
Shelly in Sam Shepard's ''Buried Child.''
trainees agreed that their most direct, practical and widespread
involvement had come earlier this month with Double Image's
inaugural play at Vassar's Powerhouse theater - Giradoux's
classic "Ondine." Directed by Andrei Belgrader
and starring Erica Gimpel and Joseph Siravo, it was an elaborate
production with a cast of 24 in 35 roles.
apprentices performed and the crew of 22 included 16
apprentices. (Some of the neophyte actors also doubled on
crew.) In addition, in three original cabaret shows and
three staged readings, students are acting, designing,
directing, building sets, making costumes and hanging lights
alongside the professionals.
new plays being presented at Vassar's Powerhouse Theater are
"Savage in Limbo" by John Patrick Shanley - whose
"Danny and the Deep Blue Sea" was presented Off
Broadway last year - and "Filthy Rich" by George F.
Walker, directed by Max Mayer. Mr. Mayer is Double Image's
artistic director and the son of its founder and executive
director, the former Broadway actress Helen Waren Mayer.
The last performance of "Savage" is at 7 P.M.
today. "Filthy Rich" opens Wednesday at 8 P.M.
and runs for six performances, through next Sunday.
few apprentices said they had never heard of "some of the
names dropped" during auditions by Carol Ostrow, a Vassar
drama graduate who is the Powerhouse Theater's producing
director. "But," one said, "Now we
do." They have become acquainted, for instance, with
the reputation of Mark Linn-Baker. Mr. Linn-Baker, the
director of "Savage in Limbo," appeared on Broadway in
"Doonesbury," played the young Nathan Zuckerman in
Philip Roth's TV adaptation of his own novel "The Ghost
Writer," and starred with Peter O'Toole in the film
"My Favorite Year."
Image will take the two plays back to New York with casts, sets
and costumes all honed and ready to open in September at the
Puerto Rican Traveling Theater, 304 West 47th Street.
the apprentices and the professionals say that living and
working together for all these weeks has formed tight and
intense relationships within each group. "It's much
less competitive than school," said Lauryn Axelrod of
Bennington College in Vermont.
here wants anybody to fail," added Mary-Louise Gemmill of
Bellevue College in Seattle. "And we are getting
experience. I've been an apprentice before, and I never
got past picking up cigarette butts in the theater parking