DramaTech, the longest-running theatre company in Atlanta, is celebrating 20 years of performing in the black box Dull Theater. To commemorate the anniversary, on Saturday audiences were treated to shows by the improvisation troupe Let’s Try This! (LTT) and VarietyTech. Later, an ensemble cast featured the opening night of their fall mainstage production “Laughter on the 23rd Floor.”
DramaTech was once a mobile company, renting space in various venues on campus and around the Atlanta area. When the previous site for DramaTech productions was condemned, it gained a permanent home in the black box theater of the Ferst Center for the Arts in 1992 named for devoted theater advocate Dean of Students Emeritus James E. Dull.
Unique among college theaters, DramaTech is completely run and operated by the students involved. They choose the majority of the shows for each season, managing the sound, lights, costuming and acting components themselves.
“Everything about DramaTech is pretty much run by students…their passion for theater and devotion to the work is very high. This [arrangement] is unusual for most theaters on college campuses. Usually it’s a theatre department where the faculty runs things and the students do it, but here it’s the opposite, which I think is different and pretty incredible,” said Melissa Foulger, DramaTech Artistic Director.
With the Ferst Center offering music and dance, DramaTech is the only program that provides the theater component for the arts on campus, bringing mainstage productions to the Tech community for 65 years.
With varying degrees of theater knowledge coming in, the students and faculty involved in DramaTech say that the theater acts as a laboratory environment where members can spend time learning the techniques and innovating.
“Much like a science lab where you take time to experiment and try out different ways of learning, having our space in the Dull Theater allows us to explore and figure out different ways of achieving special effects. It’s a constant learning experience,” said Daniel O’Rourke, DramaTech President and a third-year BMED major.
To contribute to the production process, DramaTech occasionally brings in professional directors and designers, as well as alumni who were involved in the theater during their time at the Institute. Tech alumnus Jordan Bethea is the director for Laughter on the 23rd Floor.
“We try to infuse some outside participation as well, especially from people who have had experience with DramaTech and can speak to the history,” Foulger said.
Collaboration is an important aspect of theater work in general, which is something that students come to learn through their involvement.
“DramaTech gives students the opportunity to think about how they can best work together, because theater really is ensemble based and all of the pieces have to work together to make the production happen,” Foulger said.
The different crews and actors involved DramaTech are versatile when it comes to working with different theater environments.
“Sometimes you get cross-pollination between the groups outside of the mainstage production…the costume-master and designer can be part of LTT and the people who do lighting can work with VarietyTech shows. This is unique forum for students who want to do something different. There are a lot of roles to choose from,” said Miles Johnson, DramaTech Production Manager and a third-year NE major.
The turnaround between one DramaTech production and another is relatively short. The members make a diligent effort to ensure that the stage is set for the next show in a timely fashion.
“This semester we have a very [tight] schedule for putting on the shows…when a show ends we have about two weeks to completely change the space over to the next show. It’s a lot of work that has to get done,” Johnson said.
To introduce interested students to the DramaTech culture and help them develop their interests in different areas of theater, DramaTech also offers periodic workshops. The members are always looking for people to come and contribute to the dynamic of the organization.
“You can come to just one or two workshops to get a feel for the group and see what it is we do here. If it’s for you, then we’d love to have you back, and if you have an idea that you would like to explore, come and pitch it to us,” Johnson said.
With the atmosphere of fostering close friendships through a shared passion for the arts, the Dull Theater has acted as a second home for many DramaTech students.
“For the people involved it brings an opportunity to use a different kind of creativity. It gives them a home away from home. The students are here all the time helping each other with their homework and then they work on the show together. For the audience, it provides a chance for students to see their peers in action at a reduced rate, and watch them do quality work,” Foulger said.
Performances of “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” will be running in the Dull Theater until Nov.16.
“It’s comparable to a 1950s version of 30 Rock. It’s a good story with fast dialogue and of course, the audience can expect to get a lot of laughs out of it,” O’Rourke said.