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Middlebury students in the Potomac Theatre Project spend an afternoon enjoying some rare free time.

On stage: five students play a part in Potomac Theatre Project's final season

October 16, 2006

MIDDLEBURY, Vt.- Participating in the final season of the Potomac Theatre Project's 20-year run in the Washington, D.C., area, five Middlebury College students and four recent graduates performed alongside professional actors this summer on the Olney Theatre Center's historic stage in Olney, Md.  Leaving the Olney after its 20th season, the Potomac Theatre Project (PTP) will launch its third decade next year in New York City.

Directed by Olney Theatre Artistic Director Jim Petosa and Middlebury College Professors of Theatre Cheryl Faraone and Richard Romagnoli, PTP is the only theater company of its kind in the United States - the collaboration of a professional company and an undergraduate program. Next summer, the company will return to the city where it originated under the direction of Faraone, Petosa and Romagnoli in 1977 as the New York Theatre Studio.

The company's last summer in Olney ran from June 27-July 23. The troupe produced two full-length plays and an after-dark series of shorter, student-produced plays. "No End of Blame: Scenes of Overcoming," written by Howard Baker and directed by Romagnoli, portrayed the epic struggles of a Hungarian cartoonist against the constraints of an ordered society. PTP veteran Paul Morella performed the lead role, and 40 additional roles were played by an ensemble of eight actors, including  Middlebury juniors Rishabh Kashyap and Alec Strum as well as two recent Middlebury graduates Jonathan Ellis, class of 2007, and Rebecca Kanengiser, class of 2005.

Shelagh Stevenson's "An Experiment with an Air Pump," directed by Faraone, unveiled a mystery story of illicit love and passionate science that spanned two centuries. Included in the cast were Middlebury seniors Bill Army, Laura Harris and Lauren Kiel and Middlebury graduates Lily Balsen, class of 2006, and Tara Giordano, class of 2002.

As PTP members, Middlebury College students act with professional actors as well as assist in the production, promotion, and staging of the plays. "Middlebury students are essential to PTP's work and goals," said Faraone. "One of the chief mandates of the company is the training of young artists for the theatre of the future, and the exposure of those artists to a company with a defined aesthetic, a company which believes that theatre has an essential contribution to make to our social and cultural dialogues and our understanding of contemporary life."

PTP has offered Middlebury students an opportunity to work with professionals since its first season in 1987. "The students gain many things from this process," Faraone said. "They work with experienced professionals who challenge them onstage and mentor and advise them offstage. Their work is viewed and reviewed in the same way as the work of the professionals, and they have the experience of mounting a challenging show in a brief period of time. They also learn about possibilities for the future in the D.C. area."

Students are involved in almost every aspect of the PTP productions. Laura Harris offers an account of the students' range of activities: they paint the set, hang and focus the lights, find props, set up the performance and audience spaces, and help with publicity. Each student acts in one of the major plays, and works behind the scenes of the other.

For instance, Harris, who played the role of Kate in "An Experiment with an Air Pump," also ran sound and projections for "No End of Blame," understudied for four roles, worked on wardrobe and decorated the lobby. "I have learned so much about the many facets of the theatre and putting up a production," she said. "The professional actors are so eager to talk about the business, to give advice on career paths, to discuss their professional pasts, and to offer acting guidance. Acting opposite people who have extensive training and experience automatically brings the students' performances to higher plateaus."

Bill Army, who played the role Roget in "An Experiment with an Air Pump," also  understudied roles for "No End of Blame," and acted in all three of the after dark series' short plays. Additionally, he served as usher, light-board operator, and assistant to the production manager. "It's amazing how much I have learned about the craft of acting and the business of theatre from my fellow cast members," said Army. "I have learned that I belong in the professional theatre."