The anti-war slogan “Make love, not war” is usually associated with the 1960s counterculture and protests against the Vietnam War. But the theme can be traced back to the Greek comedy “Lysistrata,” written by Aristophanes in 411 B.C.
“Lysistrata” is the tale of one woman’s crusade to end the Peloponnesian War by encouraging women to withhold sex from their husbands until they stop fighting. The Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s modern adaptation of the play set in the 1940s during World War II opens Feb. 27 and continues through March 8 in the Nafe Katter Theatre, 820 Bolton Road.
The adaptation was written and directed by Jen Wineman, a director and choreographer who is co-founder and former board member of Studio 42, a New York-based theater company that focuses on producing new work by emerging artists. Her work has been seen in New York and in major regional theaters throughout the United States.
“As I reviewed multiple versions of the script, I just couldn’t find one that I loved,” Wineman says. “By looking at multiple versions of the text, I was able to create a play that hopefully reflects the original story while bringing the humor and the setting into a context that we can all enjoy in 2015.”
The adaptation provides an early opportunity to participate in a CRT production for the newest class in the MFA acting program who arrived in Storrs last fall. They will perform as part of a cast led by Equity actors Lisa Birnbaum, who has performed extensively Off Broadway and in film and television, and Blake Segal, who has performed on national tours and is a dialect coach and teacher.
Michael Bobenhausen, Arlene Bozich and Adetinpo Thomas have immersed themselves in the first year of the full-time, three-year MFA program that includes several classes during the day, production rehearsals at night while also working in the CRT office to learn other aspects of the theater industry.
The three actors found their way to UConn through interviews and auditions conducted in major cities around the United States by the University Resident Theatre Association (URTA), which is the nation’s oldest consortium of graduate professional theater training programs. More than 1,100 prospective graduate students for all aspects of theater – from acting and directing to stage management and theater technology — attend the URTA sessions.
Dale AJ Rose, director of performance studies in the School of Fine Arts and associate artistic director of CRT, and Karen Ryker, professor of voice and acting, meet with prospective students at the URTA sessions.
“Sitting and talking with Dale and Karen it was clear that this was the place that was going to allow me grow in the way that I needed and wanted,” says Thomas, who did her undergraduate work in business and theater at the University of Georgia and worked before deciding to return to her studies. “One thing I appreciated that Dale did was he had his grad students call people he was interested in. Khetanya Henderson MFA ‘14 called me. Talking to her was great. It gave me a point of reference for someone coming from a similar background and who also was extremely professional and accomplished before she got here.”
Bozich, who graduated from Purdue with a double major in English and theater, says she was impressed by the emphasis she heard from Rose and Ryker on strengthening each student’s skills.
“This is the only program that said: we’re going to take the parts you’re missing in your training and we’re going to confront those so that when you do go into the professional world you don’t have to do that,” she says. “That was great to know the weakest part of my training would be strengthened.”
The early rehearsals for “Lysistrata” have provided challenges for the young actors as they work with a new script for a story they realize many audiences will already know.
“Creating this new piece set in the 40s and trying to make sense of some of these jokes that may seem tired but making it fresh for us as actors is a challenge,” says Bobenhausen, who is from Danbury, Conn., and majored in English and theater at Quinnipiac University in Hamden. “For me the interesting thing is watching the exploration of the actors and the process so when you come in you have all these ingredients that have been played with. For however long you’re on stage, you’re seeing the world that’s been shaped and learning how to add to it.”
The opportunity to work with professional actors like Birnbaum and Segal also provides a support system for the first-year graduate students as they try to manage their classes and rehearsal schedules.
“Once you get thrown into it and you have class all day and rehearsal at night, but you still have your mom who wants to talk with you on the phone, or asking my little sister about her soccer game and forgetting it was two days ago, you become so encumbered with what’s going on here,” Thomas says. “The Equities are like big brothers and big sisters.”
At the same time, being able to focus full attention on their acting studies is a change from their recent past.
“It’s strange having a singular focus. At Purdue, I ran around all the time. I made my own schedule; I was on auto-pilot,” Bozich says. “Everything is condensed in this [Dramatic Arts] building. I have time to focus. I have time to sink my teeth into things and not having to handle my schedule is really nice. The work is here for me and I’m allowed to completely immerse myself in it. I really love it.”
The CRT production of “Lysistrata” runs from Feb. 27 through March 8 at the Nafe Katter Theatre. Weeknight evening performances begin at 7:30 p.m. with weekend evening performances at 8 p.m. Matinee performances start at 2 p.m. For more information call 860-486-2113 or go to the CRT website.