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Why a new company means big things for theater at Drexel

November 18, 2013

A scene from the Drexel Co-op Theatre Company's first production, "Godzilla."
A scene from “Godzilla,” the first show of the new Co-op Theatre Company’s inaugural season.

Students involved in Drexel’s theater program this year likely won’t forget young Yayoi Ichinose, who brings her fiancé, Godzilla, home to meet her parents. The parents disapprove of their daughter’s choice of a husband, and the chaos that results from the lovers’ announcement to marry is hard on the family, their car and their entire town.

This is the tongue-in-cheek storyline behind “Godzilla,” produced this fall by the new Drexel Co-op Theatre Company. It’s an important production and a memorable one as it kicked off the new company’s inaugural season.

It’s the beginning of something wonderful, according to some students currently involved.

Drexel Co-op Theatre Company started inside the imagination of Nick Anselmo, director of the theater program in the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design. Since he came to Drexel eight years ago, Anselmo has committed to running the theater program like a professional theater company, he said, a choice that’s beneficial for students who want to pursue some aspect of theater, as well as those who don’t. As part of this effort, Drexel formed the Mandell Professionals in Residence Project, a partnership that provides Drexel students with access to seasoned professionals in Philadelphia, while at the same time raising Drexel’s profile in the theater community. One recent collaboration even landed Drexel a Barrymore Award, which is given annually to Philadelphia-area theaters for excellence in theater.

“Through the residency project, Drexel became a part of the professional theater community in Philly,” Anselmo said. “And not as a training ground, but as a producing partner of high-quality theater.”

The Drexel theater program had made a name for itself. Only, it needed an actual name, its own company, and a dedicated space for performances.

The name was selected last year in honor of Drexel’s signature co-op program. While students cannot yet officially co-op with the company (that’s a possibility for the future), it’s the exact model by which it operates.

The company’s structure places students in key positions such as assistant to the producing director, marketing director and front-of-house manager.

“The long-range goal is to have the company completely run by students to give them the hands-on opportunity of running and serving in specific roles in a producing theater company,” Anselmo said.

The company’s dedicated space came last year in the form of the 2,500-square-foot Black Box Theater, located in the annex that’s part of Drexel’s URBN Center at 35th and Market streets. The theater program now had use of the University’s Mandell Theater, a shared space among all areas of the Performing Arts Department, as well as the more-intimate Black Box space for smaller productions, dramatic readings and even student-written plays.

Mention the Co-op Theatre Company to recent Drexel alum Dana Marcus (BS ’13, entertainment and arts management), and she’s caught between a pride-filled grin and a pouty face.

“I am very envious of the people who are still at Drexel right now — the company has launched and it’s starting to take off and I’m not there,” said Marcus, who served as assistant to the producing director (Anselmo) last year and witnessed the company’s development during her time at Drexel.

“I think this is a really great time to get involved,” she added. “Co-op’s presence at Drexel will really contribute to the number of theater opportunities available to students (seasoned and new) and to the quality of theater at Drexel and put us on Philadelphia's map.”

What brings a unique flair to the Co-op Theatre Company is that, because Drexel doesn’t have a theater major, the students involved come from different majors across the University. Design and merchandising students work right alongside classmates studying engineering, law, business, chemistry and more.

“The company offers tons of opportunities not just for students pursuing theater, but for other people who just have some sort of facet of theater in their life,” said Allison Brobst, a senior design and merchandising major who is interested in going into costume design. Because of her interests, Anselmo had Brobst work in the company’s costume department, where she learned to sew and hem, two must-have skills for a costume designer.

Tyler Smith, a senior entertainment and arts management major, said his involvement with the company is far from a “typical college theater.” After serving as a stage manager last year, this year he craved more of the “business side” of theater, and landed the assistant to the producing director position.

“[The company’s model] gives you more of a realistic feel, like working at a real theater company working in the city,” he said. “You just get a better experience that way.”

While the students bring diverse backgrounds and career goals, they share a passion and love for the craft.

“This is not just a hobby for us,” said Brobst. “We really do love it.”

Anselmo works to ensure the students walk way with something much more than just a fun time.

“We’ve always tried to instill in students a sense of professionalism and respect for the craft. But with the new company, they now have more ownership of it,”Anselmo said. “You’re not just doing a show for fun — you own the quality of the production, and you own the result. They respond really well to that.”

It’s that sense of ownership that’s got students excited, Brobst said.

“Having our first full season, it’s an incredible feeling,” she said. “It’s amazing to see that all of our hard work has gone toward something and it’s really exciting to say we have our own theater company. It still gives me goose bumps when I say it sometimes.”

Next up for the Co-op Theatre Company is “The Apple Tree,” playing at the Mandell Theater Nov. 21-24. A unique evening of three one-act musicals about men, women and a little thing called temptation, “The Apple Tree” will be the first main-stage show of the company’s inaugural season. Tickets can be purchased here.