This excerpt was from an article by former Edge contributor Alex Bieler, ’11, originally published in the Erie Reader on Apr. 1, 2013.
It’s a chilly Tuesday night, one of those unsurprising Erie evenings when the weather doesn’t seem to want to cooperate with the average person’s wishes. Luckily, I’m indoors, where the room is warm and the walls are bright. Bright green, in fact, with the edges of the room seemingly pushed back with shelves full of books, photos, and trophies, all surrounding seven souls solely focused on the task at hand: rehearsal for “[title of show],” Dramashop’s final show of its current season.
Now, if you’ve ever read a Reader before, you may already be familiar with the not-for-profit contemporary theater company called Dramashop, as we at the Reader have covered a fair number of the troupe’s productions since the minds behind the Drama founded theshop back in May 2011. The scene was in trouble, no one was running the show, and the public was losing out on some great alternative theater.
Fast forward to now – a room full of 85.7 percent acting-types and 14.3 percent me is engaged in rehearsing the theater company’s very first musical. The four actors take their positions while the director and his assistant focus on the quartet. And then it begins.
“I’m sorry, are we in this scene now?”
The words part from Rebecca Coleman’s lips and I quickly glance up from my notepad. It’s kind of an anticlimactic beginning for my inside look into the process of getting “[title of show]” ready for when its Schuster Theatre run starts May 23. While I wait for the scene to start over, the other actors continue running through lines like nothing out of the ordinary happened. Suddenly, I realize that Rebecca wasn’t the one that got lost – I was.
You see, “[title of show]” isn’t your prototypical song-and-dance kind of musical – it’s a musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical. Where I had thought Rebecca had simply forgotten her place in the script, she was merely acting as her character Heidi, and I was being treated to an inside look at how the inside of a show’s humble beginnings – almost a sort of rehearsal “Inception.”
“It’s very much a musical about the process of doing theater, and we’re a company that’s all about focusing on the process,” Dramashop Artistic Director Zach Flock explains to me after the rehearsal. “There are lines in the show that when I hear them or say them, I just think that it’s true to how we as a company function. It almost kind of feels like ‘Dramashop the musical’ at times.”
It doesn’t take long to figure out that Flock and the rest of the Dramashop crew are big fans of the process behind theater. Hell, you don’t even have to talk to them to figure that one out, given that the phrase “theater in process” is emblazoned next to the logo on their website and is the main focus of their “About” section on the official Dramashop Facebook page.
“Collectively, we’re all a group of actors,” says Bryan Rall, sharp-dressed and bespectacled president of the theater company. “One of the things that we collectively enjoy the most is the discovery in a character and the process of actually working through a script, and that’s in large part why we came up with Dramashop – because we really like the nitty-gritty process of it. It’s not just the product, the process of it is really fulfilling.”
Of course, just because people like something doesn’t always mean that they end up acting on their passion, which is why my bacon-scented fragrances for him and her haven’t graced this plane of existence quite yet. For a nonprofit performing company that dabbles in thought-provoking modern theater to get off the ground in our fair city of Erie, well that would take some dedicated individuals and a lot of hard work.
Enter Zach, Bryan, Jess Ciccone, and Dom Del Greco, the quartet at the core of Erie’s contemporary-theater scene. As much as some naysayers may decry The Gem City as a victim of brain drain, these four creative cats consciously came to Northwest Pa. from the homes of Harmony, Pa., Poland, Ohio, and other locales not named Erie to attend Gannon, Mercyhurst, and Edinboro universities.
After meeting through various shows at Gannon and the Erie Playhouse, the quartet became friends outside the theater, although the stage was never far from their minds. Eventually, the group saw that the prospect of creating a contemporary theater company wasn’t all that unrealistic after they successfully ran “The Book of Liz,” an Amy and David Sedaris-written play, for Gannon’s Fringe Festival back in 2010.
“I think that was the first manifestation of what Dramashop was going to be, because I know [Zack] and I had discussions even before of starting a theater company,” Rall says.
“Honestly, there were lots of conversations over drinks or just hanging out,” Zach agrees. “This is something we all love.”
You can find the rest of this article here at eriereader.com or check out more about Dramashop at dramashop.org