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Binghamton-Chile Theatre Collaboration

Two universities, two nations, one partnership

Harpur and Chilean theater students team up
for international performances

by Eric Coker

What started a decade ago as a small theater workshop between students from Binghamton University and Duoc Universidad Católica in Chile has developed into a cultural collaboration that has produced three joint productions on two continents.

“It’s like a research project between our faculty, international faculty, undergraduate and graduate students, and alumni,” says Tom Kremer, a theatre professor in Harpur College, of the partnership. “It covers every single area.”

“It’s wonderful to see how students learn from each other and how they grow,” says Rodrigo Nunez, MA ’02, director of Duoc’s acting program. “The one thing that makes all of us equal is that we are different. When you learn from differences, you become a better person. In the end, I think that’s the goal of education and the arts.”

The third Binghamton-Duoc collaboration — William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream — debuted in April at Binghamton University’s Watters Theater. Cast members from both schools then presented the show again in June at two locations in Chile. The schools previously teamed up for productions of West Side Story in 2007 and The Threepenny Opera in 2009.

This year, co-directors Kremer and Nunez decided to raise the stakes by presenting a bilingual production of Shakespeare’s classical farce.

“We wanted to create a play in two languages where no matter which language you speak, you are able to follow the play,” Kremer says. “And I had an idea how to do it.”

Kremer communicated his idea on how to create such a script to alumna Dallas DeFee ’09. DeFee, who received her master’s degree in 2012 from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London, was familiar with the Binghamton-Duoc partnership. She had a role in West Side Story and traveled to Chile to perform the show there, as well.

DeFee, who now is an actor/director based in London, began assembling a working script of the Shakespeare play in fall 2012.

“I had a lot of support from other actors,” she said during a spring visit to Binghamton University. “There’s quite a pool of Spanish-speaking actors where I’m at now. I had many different readings, experiments and improvisations with these actors at different stages. It was invaluable help: They gave me the actor’s perspective and (insight into) how audience members would react.”

Adding another international element to an already successful cultural collaboration was exciting, DeFee said.

“I’m halfway around the world and still part of something that’s happening at my alma mater,” she said. “I had an amazing time as an undergraduate here and I support the department and like how it’s moving forward. It makes me feel good to give back.”

The working script was delivered and the 15-member Duoc entourage arrived in March. The production soon took on an even greater collaborative nature when a student in the Cinema Department began documenting the creative process. Despite language differences, Binghamton and Duoc students worked together to refine the script and their roles, and rework the Spanish translation while getting to know each other outside of the theater.

Midsummer was a success during its fiveshow Binghamton run, as audiences easily adapted to the story that featured the actors speaking and acting with each other in two languages. The cast and crew — including 13 from Binghamton University — headed to Chile after Commencement for performances in downtown Santiago and the city of Valparaiso.

“This group was great,” Kremer says. “We didn’t lose a beat. One of the big things we had to do in Chile was restage the play for two different theater spaces. The challenge of restaging the show got people to work right away.”

“We got the best of both worlds (in Chile),” says Jake Wentlent ’13, who was a hit with the crowd in both countries in the role of Bottom. “We had most of the mornings to ourselves and we would rehearse four to five hours in the afternoon. Then the nights were free, so we got to see a lot of Santiago.”

The shows in Chile even drew dignitaries from the U.S. Embassy, while the president of Duoc attended performances in both Santiago and Valparaiso.

“The hospitality of the Chileans is always a highlight,” Kremer says.

The relationship between Kremer and Nunez, which began when Nunez came to Binghamton in 2001 to pursue a master’s degree, is the heart of the cultural collaboration between the schools.

“I don’t know if there are two other directors in the world who work together to direct a show,” Nunez says with a laugh.

“Rodrigo and I see eye to eye about theater,” says Kremer, who admitted that directing is “usually an egotistical business.” “I’m happiest when I’m working with Rodrigo because I can share everything and what comes back is a great idea. Neither of us try to claim ownership of an idea — it’s an idea to make the play work. Our duties are not split.”

Students from both schools understand the significance of the international partnership and the opportunities they have received from Kremer and Nunez.

“I’m so happy for this production because it’s helping to make my school bigger and better,” says Duoc’s Carlos Sanchez-Elissald, who played Quince in Midsummer. “Rodrigo and Tom are giving us the opportunity to get better as actors. We will never experience this anywhere else. It’s a great gift.”

“It’s important to see that people who don’t necessarily have anything in common — other than we like to act — can meet, create a production in five weeks and end up liking each other,” Wentlent says.

Kremer and Nunez are already planning their next project. Although they haven’t decided on the play, they intend to continue creating bilingual theater for non-bilingual audiences. A 2016 show will likely begin in Chile and then arrive at Binghamton University, Kremer said.

“These experiences are about the connections between two cultures,” Kremer says. “It’s students learning about each other. … The relationships between the students are deeper and tighter. They become much more involved intellectually and spiritually when they work on these international collaborations.”

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Last Updated: 10/9/13