Syracuse University Magazine

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The cast of Odyssey. Photo courtesy of The Araca Project



Curtain's Up for Drama Grads

“What’s the easiest way to break into the theater?” When the late actor Peter Falk G’53 was asked that question, he replied, “By picking the stage door lock at about five in the morning; all the other ways are much too difficult.” Recent SU drama alumni have reason to disagree. The Araca Project, a collaborative effort by the drama department and The Araca Group, a leading entertainment production and merchandising company, is making it possible for them to produce their own plays and, in the process, get a bootcamp-style education in the entrepreneurial skills necessary to light up the Great White Way. Launched in 2010, The Araca Project facilitated four stage productions in Manhattan last fall, all produced by alumni of the past five years. “I had this idea of turning Homer’s epic into a musical,” says Matt Britten ’07, whose stage adaptation of The Odyssey was among the winning entries. “The Araca Project helped me turn that fun idea into opening night. In between, I learned how to get an eight-foot-tall Cyclops built, costumes  laundered, and improvise, adapt, and overcome whatever stood in the way of delivering a show that beats expectations.”

The Araca Project is the brainchild of Michael Rego ’90, Matthew Rego, and Hank Unger ’90, co-founders of The Araca Group, whose many stage achievements include the critically acclaimed Broadway revival of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge, and such Tony Award winners as Urinetown The Musical and Wicked (see related story). The idea for an early alumni producing program stems from Rego and Unger’s experience. As undergraduates, they produced Caryl Churchill’s Cloud 9 with the SU drama department’s Black Box Players and were then motivated to produce the play professionally in New York in 1993. “When we decided to put together this program, we wanted to give the students that same taste of entrepreneurship,” Michael Rego says. “We think The Araca Project does that; we aren’t producing it for them, but we aren’t abandoning them either.”

Last spring, The Araca Project put out a call to SU alumni for proposed stage productions. Seventy alumni were involved in making pitches to a jury of representatives from the company and the drama department. “The winners got a two-week experiencebootcamp for producers,” says juror Lisa Nicholas, who heads the Tepper Semester, SU’s undergraduate New York theater immersion program, and doubles as creative development director for The Araca Project. “Experts are brought in to help them learn how to run a box office, generate publicity, and deal with all the different facets of producing, including preparing a budget and raising money.” The Araca Project provides some capital for each of the shows, but that comes in the form of matching funds. It’s up to the neophyte producers to perform this most difficult and necessary of tasks. Danielle von Gal ’09, executive producer for The Araca Project, points to evidence that the 2011 productions are having the intended effects on budding careers. “We’ve seen each of the shows go on to have either a subsequent production, interest from publishers, or become attached to a commercial producer,” she says. Britten is hoping for a new production of Odyssey. “I’ve been meeting with industry folks who saw the show and want to help take it further,” he says.

Many Syracuse drama students are experienced and ready to work before they graduate, according to Nicholas. “The Araca Project provides a platform for alumni to develop their entrepreneurial spirit and a forum to produce their own work,” she says. With the call out for another round of proposals, this time including 10 years of SU alumni as well as University of Michigan alumni, Michael Rego urges recent graduates of both schools to apply. “This program is about harnessing your entrepreneurial spirit,” he says. “Don’t wait for anyone else to discover you. As a young artist working in any medium, it’s up to you to discover yourself.”    —David Marc



The Araca Project Inaugural Season: 

Fall 2011 American Theatre of Actors, New York City

16 performances of each show

Pluck the Day by Steven Walter; producers: Lucy Sheftall ’11, Daniel Skinner ’11

The Tramaine Experience by Tramaine Ford ’06; producers: Tramaine Ford, Gette Levy ’10, Evan McGee, Rainy Cruz

Peter and I by Matte O’Brien ’04 and Matt Vinson; producers: Alex Alcheh ’11, Emily Batsford ’11, Justin Nichols ’11, Patrick Murney ’09

Odyssey book by Matt Britten ’07; music by Dimitri Landrain; producers: Matt Britten, Peter Dagger ’06