Fear and Loathing in…Reno

by Matt Benoit

Horizon Editor

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Whatcom drama instructor Gerry Large and seven drama students returned from a drama-filled week in Reno, Nevada, after attending the American College Theatre Festival, held Feb. 15 through 19.

Four of the seven students took part in the Irene Ryan Scholarship Auditions after two of them, Colleen Ames and Tim Greger, were nominated by American College Theatre adjudicators for their roles in the fall quarter productions of “Intermission” and “Tragedy: A Tragedy,” respectively, two one-act plays by Will Eno.

The group—which also included students Jake Martin, Todd Gibbs, Danielle Comchoc, Alice Despopoulos, and Shu-Ling Zhao-Lindwall—left on Feb. 14, traveling by bus to Sea-Tac International Airport near Seattle and boarding a flight straight to Reno. They returned on Feb. 20.

“Reno was fantastic,” said Ames, 19, who has been involved in drama since high school. “I learned a lot from the workshops and just talking to other people there.” Those other people included students from other colleges in at least five different states, including Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, and Nevada.

Although she and her scene partner did not make it past the preliminary round of the scholarship competition—which featured 300 students—Ames said their critiquing judge liked their performance, a scene from “The Importance of Being Ernest.”

The pair decided to tackle the scene in a non-traditional way. “We decided to amp it up with a sword fight,” she said, noting that when they first got on stage, an apparently drunken Washington State University student yelled out, “They have swords!”

Overall, Ames enjoys acting and says she really enjoys instructor Gerry Large. “He’s a fun teacher,” she said. Still, Ames says acting is just a hobby, as she is leaning towards a career path in pre-med.

Greger, 20, a second-year Whatcom student and the other student nominated for a scholarship, called his week in Reno a lot of fun.

“Very educational,” he said. “I learned a lot and we were doing workshops all day.”

Greger estimated that in the five days of workshops—which featured instructors from across the country teaching on topics including acting, movement, physical comedy, and musical and technical theatre—he participated in “at least fifteen” of them.

“I don’t think I had a bad workshop,” said Greger, adding that in addition to the workshops, he enjoyed meeting people outside of his local community and seeing what other schools were doing.

Although he also did not make it past the preliminary round of the scholarship auditions (which cut 300 students to 30 before a semi-final round of 16 were cut to two winners), Greger said he did about as well as he thought he would.

The winners received only $500, he said, so the real reward comes more from the recognition of winning and the exposure to different colleges and people who could help them get acting jobs in the future.

Large said in an e-mail that even though the trip was expensive, traveling to Reno wasn’t about winning the scholarship auditions. “It was about the competing, and even more about the workshops,” he said.

“They were pitted against upper division and graduate students from huge universities,” said Large of the four Whatcom competitors. “All of our students realized they hadn’t prepared enough. They’re not likely to make that mistake again.”

The trip was also thought-provoking, as Large said several of his students were so inspired they made changes to their educational plans.

“Two have decided to stay in school instead of moving to Chicago,” he said. A few other students changed their minds about which school they’ll transfer to.

Large himself was also inspired, saying he’ll keep pushing Whatcom to create drama department positions for a technical director and part-time costume designer, positions that every community college at the event already had.

There were also lighter moments on the trip, as Large admitted to losing $40 playing slot machines, and Greger recalled getting lost in the Circus Circus casino the group stayed at.

“It’s massive and confusing, and we don’t know where we’re going,” Greger reflected on with a laugh. “It’s like the Spinal Tap [scene] where they’re trying to find their way on stage, and [run around shouting] ‘Rock and Roll’!”

In addition to acting at Whatcom, Greger does stand-up and improv comedy as a ‘Mainstage Player’ at the Upfront Theatre, Ryan Stiles’ comedy club located in downtown Bellingham.

Although he was not planning to go to college, Greger realized school was his best chance to avoid having to spend the rest of his life working menial jobs. Starting drama classes at Whatcom and improv classes at the Upfront in the fall of 2008, Greger says acting just appealed to him, even though he’d never done anything drama-related before.

He says what seems to attract him to the craft is the notion of conveying something difficult through storytelling, as well as the fact that acting is basically “pretend.”

“It’s all very kind of, childish, you know,” said Greger. “You feel like you’re just playing around and using your imagination, but you just have certain guidelines.”

Greger says he prefers improvising to scripted material. “Reno really drove that home for me,” he said. “It’s nice to have something new and exciting and saying new words every time.”

As for a career, Greger says he would like to focus more on writing and performing what he writes, whether it be stand-up, improv, sketches, or possibly writing for television.

“I’d like to get involved in as much of that as I possibly could,” he said.

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