Muhlenberg Theatre & Dance Launches Assembly Performance FestivalFeaturing more than fifty student performers, the Festival’s five projects range from performance art based on ‘The Odyssey’ to an immersive ‘party of the year’
By: Clarissa Shirley '22 Thursday, February 24, 2022 11:18 AM
When the Muhlenberg College Theatre & Dance Department put out a call for proposals last fall, for a performance festival to be presented this spring, the proposal guidelines boiled down to a single word: “assembly.”
“Our first association with the word ‘assembly’ might be where we learn to ‘say no to drugs’ in elementary school,” says Rebecca Lustig, the department’s director of the co-curricular/production program. “And while the word can be tied to education, it can also be tied to legislature, to parties, to Jane Austen, and — maybe most relevant to us — to the idea of collective gathering.”
Outside of that single coordinating idea, all proposals were welcome, from any Muhlenberg student, faculty, or staff member — anything from a ten-minute performance art piece to a full-length musical.
The lineup that emerged included a popular underground musical theater piece, an invitation to attend an immersive “party of the year,” a reflective ritual that holds space for grief, and a performance art piece exploring text from Homer’s “Odyssey.” The initial lineup also included an original musical inspired by Peter Kropotkin's writing about mutual aid, which has since evolved into a collective engaged in community-based mutual aid projects.
“I think that everyone really missed being a part of the process and having a creative voice,” says Celeste Samson, the Muhlenberg senior who is serving as student artistic director of the festival. “This is our way of integrating the celebration of being back together into student opportunities to collaborate theatrically.”
The festival will feature more than fifty performers, with even more students working on creative and production teams. Three of the five projects are student-led.
Lustig has overseen a transition to a more thoughtful and inclusive approach to season selection for the department — one that emphasizes process and collaboration. The Assembly Festival is an extension of this approach to storytelling.
“By embracing new voices in the theatrical process, we can receive richer stories,” Lustig says. “I am definitely excited to be featuring student-led work to this extent. We wanted to be sure to highlight their talents.”
The Assembly Festival lineup is as follows:
The Mutual Aid Project, advised by Ethan Philbrick, is a student collective engaged in the practice of mutual aid throughout the semester. The group plans to hold seven meetings over the course of the semester that will be open to anyone in the Muhlenberg community to explore ways to creatively plan a series of mutual aid initiatives and stagings together, perhaps through a series of social sculptures and other artistic practices. Meeting dates are available at muhlenberg.edu/seeashow.
“A Feeling of, Feeling for,” March 25-27, a devised piece directed by Maereg Gebretekle, is an interactive ritual inspired by Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley’s article "Black Atlantic, Queer Atlantic." How do we withdraw from intellectualizing our way out of trauma and towards inserting ourselves back into our bodies? How can we mourn the person who we could’ve become but no longer desire to be? The ritual explores these questions and more through a collaborative practice with the audience.
“You Are Cordially Invited,” March 3-5, is an immersive theatre experience directed by Sarah Levine. Every year the Crowlins throw a fantastical party. Last year everyone lucky enough to get an invite couldn’t stop talking about it for weeks. It seems too good to be true… or maybe too bizzare, because the things people said they saw there last year don’t sound… real. Was it all a trick? Now is your chance to discover for yourself; this year you are cordially invited to the party of the year.
“Rosy-Crimson,”the week of April 11-13, at sunset, led by Kim Hoeckele, Assistant Professor of Photography, uses repeated text from multiple English translations of Homer's The Odyssey as its foundation for experimental performance. The script is a series of vignettes that skew narrative, disrupt dialogue, and confound meaning.
“Firebringer the Musical,” April 29-May 1, from creators Star Kid comes a new musical directed by Kiana Holmes. At the dawn of humanity, one of the tribes of cave-people survived the many trials of prehistoric life under the wise leadership of Jemilla, The Peacemaker. But one member of the tribe doesn’t seem to ﬁt in: Zazzalil. While out hatching her latest scheme, Zazzalil stumbles upon the most important discovery in her history — one that will pit her tribe against woolly mammoths and saber-tooth tigers, and change the world forever. She’ll travel from omega to alpha and become… the Firebringer!
Tickets for each project will be available a couple weeks before showtime, at muhlenberg.edu/seeashow or by phone at 484-664-3333. Box office hours are Monday through Friday, noon to 6 p.m. and two hours before curtain. Masks are required for all patrons.
About the Muhlenberg College Theatre & Dance Department
Muhlenberg offers Bachelor of Arts degrees in theatre and dance. The Princeton Review ranked Muhlenberg’s theatre program in the top twelve in the nation for eight years in a row, and Fiske Guide to Colleges lists both the theatre and dance programs among the top small college programs in the United States. Muhlenberg is one of only eight colleges to be listed in Fiske for both theatre and dance.
About Muhlenberg College
Founded in 1848, Muhlenberg is a highly selective, private, four-year residential, liberal arts college offering baccalaureate and graduate programs. With an enrollment of approximately 2,200 students, Muhlenberg College is dedicated to shaping creative, compassionate, collaborative leaders through rigorous academic programs in the arts, humanities, natural sciences and social sciences; selected preprofessional programs, including accounting, business, education and public health; and progressive workforce-focused post-baccalaureate certificates and master’s degrees. Located in Allentown, Pennsylvania, approximately 90 miles west of New York City, Muhlenberg is a member of the Centennial Conference, competing in 22 varsity sports. Muhlenberg is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.