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Show's messages meaningful to directors, inter-cultural cast

By : Rachel Coker

An ongoing collaboration between theater Professor Tom Kremer and a Chilean actor/director will blossom on stage this month, when their students perform West Side Story.

Kremer and Rodrigo Núñez met in 2000 when Núñez was a Fulbright scholar at Binghamton. Since then, they have arranged several exchanges between Binghamton and DUOC Universidad Católica in Santiago, where Núñez chairs the theater department.

This semester the pair, now good friends, are working on their most ambitious project to date: a full mainstage production, complete with music, costumes and a multicultural cast, to be assembled in just seven weeks.

“It has just been an inspiring experience,” Kremer said. “You can see the students now thinking not only with their brains but also with their hearts.”

West Side Story, based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and set in 1950s Manhattan, explores the hostility between two rival gangs. Tony, the young protagonist, belongs to a local gang, the Jets. He falls in love with Maria, the sister of the leader of the Sharks, a gang of recent Puerto Rican immigrants.

Kremer and Núñez initially hoped to stage a bilingual adaptation of the show, but they couldn’t obtain the rights to do it. Instead, all 28 actors will perform in English with English supertitles.

Americans have been cast as the Jets, while the Chilean students will play the Sharks.

“The play investigates violence as an answer to different opinions, and that has actually brought the students closer,” Kremer said. “Their collaboration is the answer to the problem in the play. If groups got together and decided to work together toward a common goal, maybe we would choose violence less often. That’s the message of the play, of course.”

The set design will be quite different from other productions of West Side Story. The orchestra will be on an elevated platform on the stage, creating an underpass-like area beneath it. The actors will use very few props.

“It pulls the audience into the story more,” Kremer said of the set. “It demands the use of their imaginations.”

Kremer and Núñez each credit the other’s culture with a different approach to acting.

“They are learning to work in a more focused way,” Núñez said of his students. “Really, here time is money.”

Kremer said the Binghamton students are benefiting as well.

“The Chilean actors are much more emotionally open and free. They’re much more physically affectionate,” Kremer said. “Our students really have opened up. We still are, as much as we don’t think we see it in our culture, a puritanical society. The Chileans actually move their hips.”

“The students are not going to be the same when this finishes,” Núñez added. “And that’s going to underline what’s happening on the stage.”

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Last Updated: 10/14/08