How Syracuse Stage and SU work together to produce quality performances

The professional theater has partnered with the university's drama department for 40 years, allowing students to work alongside their professors, faculty and other professionals.

Scores of students sit outside the former Regent’s Theater, laughing, running lines and soaking up the sunshine. The plaza is lined with futuristic chrome walls, the light bouncing off almost blinding passersby.

The building behind the small set of walls is the Syracuse Stage. Patrons entering the lobby are met with a cool, shady atrium lined with photos from past and present shows.

Photo: Rachel Gilbert
Syracuse Stage and SU Drama have collaborated for 40 years. Now it is heading into its first season with Bob Hupp's selected shows. The Storch Theatre is one of three performance spaces available at the facility.

A gaggle of eager prospective students show up to Syracuse Stage, hoping to gain entry to the Syracuse University Department of Drama. They mill about in a large group, clutching sheet music and running through monologues in their heads.

Each year, 1,300 people apply to the performance programs, but there are only 60 seats available.

SU drama is among the most competitive programs at the university, and is revered in its field because of its close relationship to a professional theater company.

Making history

Syracuse Stage is entering its 40th season, and its first with shows selected by artistic director Bob Hupp. This upcoming season, the two entities will be drawn even closer with the addition of a second co-production, allowing students to perform alongside faculty members and professional actors.

Hupp chose to add a second co-production after receiving feedback that there weren’t enough performance opportunities for non-musical theater majors. Among the two is The Three Musketeers, which will be Hupp's Syracuse Stage directorial debut.

"I definitely think that engagement and that opportunity enhances our audience experience," Hupp said. "In addition to enhancing the experience of the students wishing to become performers, I think it engages a lot of our audience."

The intricate relationship between the regional theater and university is ever-evolving, changing slightly with each artistic director, said Joseph Whelan, Syracuse Stage's publications director and assistant marketing director. There are less than 20 universities that operate alongside a professional company, and a majority of them are with graduate programs.

The partnership was born under Arthur Storch, when he was appointed artistic director of the Stage and drama department chair in 1974. The Stage receives funding from the university, students are able to learn from professionals and stage management students can take internships at the Stage working on shows.

Kyra Button, a senior stage management major is heading to the Cleveland Repertory Theater to start work after graduation, a job she attributes to this partnership. Button worked on How Learned to Drive which was a co-production between Cleveland and Syracuse, during her internship she was hired.

Button said it is cases like these that show how helpful the relationship is for students.

"It’s the reason I came to Syracuse — that connection," Button said. "I chose this school because it had that little thing that set it apart and that part was Syracuse Stage."

When students design a set, it is constructed by the professional employees of the stage. Each time a student is featured in a production, they earn points towards their equity card — and membership in the actor’s union.

"The advantage is obvious," said Michael Tick, Dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts. "Syracuse Stage is the teaching hospital for the department the way a medical university needs a teaching hospital.

Tick said he would not have taken the job at SU last year if the partnership didn’t exist, and it’s an extremely well developed program. Further down the line, Tick said he would consider adding a graduate performance program.

Growing pains

For now, the biggest barrier facing the Stage is its housing. The facilities are dated and bursting at the seams, a problem Hupp said is a good one to have. There are rumblings of upgrades and renovations, but an overhaul is unlikely to happen very soon.

Jim Clark, a professor of theater management and associate dean of assessment and accreditation at the College of Visual and Performing Arts said that if renovations begin in the next five years, he would be very surprised. But 10 years may push the limit for how well the current theaters can hold up.

Hupp said the wear and tear of the facilities is a good problem to have as it is demonstrative of the success of the establishment. More than 60,000 people from across central New York and beyond visit the complex each year.

Moving on

Patrons visit to see shows produced by both the Stage and SU Drama, but further down the line, Hupp hopes to further develop the connection to SU. In January, a play written by Kyle Bass, the Stage's associate artistic director, was produced.

Separated featured student veterans and their stories. Hupp said this type of production incorporates a different audience to the regulars at the Stage, and will benefit all. Additionally, Hupp is keeping alumni engaged at the Stage by bringing them back to work on productions.

Hupp recently visited New York City to hold auditions for a show, while there, he hosted a day exclusively for SU alumni to audition. Collaboration like this, Hupp said, is vital to the longevity of each entity.

Students and faculty connected to the Stage universally echoed the benefits of the partnership with SU. From the student finishing her third semester interning at the Stage, to the artistic director entering his first season of shows, they all agreed it is a beneficial partnership.

"It’s a symbiotic relationship that’s a win-win," Clark said. "It’s a win for the Stage because it couldn’t operate without the university. It’s a win for the university because they couldn’t have what they have without the Syracuse Stage."

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