Coming to college, it’s interesting to see the different paths that those of us who dedicated our high school careers to theater take. For some, it means a degree and a pursuit of the bright lights of Broadway. For others, it means finding that theater bleeds into so many other forms of learning, and that we can diversify ourselves from the skills that we gained. I feel that theater often gets written off as cheesy and that theater kids get pushed into a corner where we’re wearing dramatic scarves and doing random interpretive dancing. Truthfully, comedic theater is an art form that reflects the ups and downs of the universal human experience.
To dive into the theater scene on Cal’s campus, I interviewed the President of Theater for Charity, Ethan Schlatter. Ethan himself got involved in T4C because he didn’t want to major in theater but still wanted a way to be casually involved in theater at Berk. He said that, “Theater4Charity was founded over 10 years ago as a student organization at Cal. T4C is a 100% student run, acted, written, directed, and acted club. This means that we only put on completely original shows by Cal students. From these shows, we put on usually two showcases a semester and donate 100% of our ticket proceeds to charity and we pick new charities each semester.”
Ethan also comments on the universality of theater, saying, “I personally think theater and comedy are so universal because of the sheer escapism of theater. Especially with how constantly connected everyone is, it’s great to just sit back and watch something that will make you happy. I also think theater and comedy are so universal because they’re so accessible. You don’t need a camera, crew, or even a dramatic stage or lighting to put on a performance. Comedy can be as simple as just telling jokes with friends.” I feel that comedic theater is a real art and that many do not realize the true extent of planning and life experience that goes into a good joke or bit. To this end Ethan says, “It’s a really great form of self expression, letting the writers, actors, and directors all share something in a wacky and outlandish way that they might not have been able to regularly. It’s also a great way to share ideas with people. You don’t have to be doing a serious drama to broach an important issue. While obviously not all of comedic theater is going to have some underlying message, I feel like a lot of people discredit the ability of comedy to actually say something.”
I personally joined T4C this semester and I’ve seen first-hand how students light up when they’re given a space to engage in comedic scenes and bits, such as with our recent one-acts. We’re now moving on to our full-length, “A Mid-Nineties Night’s Dream,” which was written by Brendon Greenberg. It’s a lose comedic biography of Kurt Cobain told in Iambic Pentameter. Proceeds are being donated to the Berkeley Food Collective.
When asked where his inspiration for the project came from, Brendon said, “My friend Joe and I went for a night walk through the neighborhood and we were just riffing and joking around and the concept of ‘That 90’s Musical’ came up and I wrote it down in my notes. Then it morphed into ‘A Mid-Nineties Night’s Dream’ and I really wanted to write a play around that pun. I was obsessed with Nirvana in high school and so I already knew a lot of trivia and lyrics that I could incorporate to make a plot. Also, angsty Kurt Cobain as a 90s Hamlet analog, and his controversial romance with Courtney Love a la Romeo and Juliet seemed to fit quite well.” For someone who’s obsessed with music as well as the bard, it’s been such a magical experience to watch Brendon’s smartly-written text come to life.
When asked how he combined the ancient art of Shakespeare with more recent forms of comedy, Brendon said, “There are a lot of these tropes like disguise plots and mistaken identities, roundabout wordplay, the rhyming, etc. that kinda lend themselves to humor as it is. The rest, hopefully, comes from the juxtaposition between the antiquated, metered English and the world of the 90’s i.e. ‘Hast thou seen the new vid on MTV’ — you know, at the least it sounds kinda weird.” His writing of the play combined his love for Nirvana with an academic pursuit of English as a minor. “One of my favorite classes was 117s, which surveyed Shakespeare’s career beginning to end. That’s where all of my knowledge of Shakespeare and theater comes from, for the most part. From there I just pulled from character archetypes, type scenes, famous monologues and mashed them together with their counterparts in Kurt Cobain’s life, and inserted and adapted music lyrics to make a lot of the dialogue and speeches while counting the syllables as I wrote.”
Brendon is in many improv groups on campus, including Improv4Charity. In relating this back to his writing, he says, “In improv a lot of the humor is about being inspired by real people and situations and using those real experiences as a starting point. I’m really amused by fandoms, hardcore sports fans, super pretentious sci fi nerds, diehard EDM people, etc, just the concept of these big cultural phenomenons that have so much gravity and effect on people but they’re so niche and kinda ridiculous in a vacuum…I channeled the diehard Nirvana geek I was sophomore year who listened to ONLY Nirvana for like 6 months straight…so I guess I tried to parody this idea of ‘a rock mythos,’ you know they talk about this pantheon of ‘musical gods.’ I guess what I’m trying to say is people worship these people, the Kurt Cobains and Thom Yorkes-the big players in whatever niche community they identify with, and it’s fun to look back and laugh at that sometimes?”
Brendon also has some great insight when it comes to seeing art in terms of comedy: “You always see that theater symbol logo thing with the two masks, one frowning for drama and one smiling for comedy…so art and comedy are definitely not mutually exclusive especially for theater, it seems to be at least half of it based on this evidence. A lot of the time art is funny and funny is art, or at least I tend to find humor in art museums and novels and stuff…maybe the safe thing to say is comedy is an approach to art?
“For example, a portrait painting can be funny depending on the subject, or at least the way the subject it painted (i.e. an oil painting of some nobleman with a neckbeard and fuzzy fedora hanging in the museum of beaux-arts vs. caricatures of people with super exaggerated features painted by the guy sitting in the park, it’s kind of a stretch, but you get the point). For me, art is about representing the world and how you represent it. You can choose to represent the drama and woes of the world in very poignant forms, or the comedy of the world in way that heightens the ridiculousness, or a mix-match of either, maybe with a tinge of irony.”
“A Mid-Nineties Night’s Dream” will be performed November 30th and December 1st and 2nd! Come out and support a great cause while also feeling as if you’re in the globe theater with the frontrunner of Nirvana himself. Follow Theater for Charity on Facebook for updates.