New student theatre troupe makes minimalist productions

by Cathleen Cusachs / Beacon Staff • February 12, 2015

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An eerie, thought-provoking aura reminiscent of The Twilight Zone came over Little Building’s Cabaret as a young student theater group tested the waters. Their goal: to make their audience as mentally uncomfortable as possible.

Dive In Productions, a year-old troupe, performed Absence of Light on Feb. 9 and 10 to a packed room. Absence of Light, a minimalist production consisting of eight original works, looks at the dark times and people in life.

The organization was founded as a company for all majors and experience levels.

“It’s the idea that you don’t have to sacrifice quality to let anyone who wants to try it, try it,” said junior Marina Altschiller, the founder. “If you work with anyone hard enough, they can do something amazing.” 

Altschiller, a performing arts major, created Dive In Productions in the spring of 2014 after having submitted show rejected by a theater group, and decided to produce it herself. She gathered friends with different backgrounds and from various colleges until she had enough to produce The Upside of Being Down. Once she saw how much fun her friends had working on it, she said came up with the idea of forming the group.

“After doing that show, with just a big mix of people from all majors and people from different schools, it really just showed me if you try hard enough, and you want something bad enough, you can make it happen,” Altschiller said. “And from there, I kind of decided it didn’t need to be just me doing that.”

Absence of Light, the company’s most recent show, was directed by Joshua Shelor, a sophomore performing arts major. Shelor created a surreal feel with flashlights, electronic candles, all black staging, and creepy puppetry, which he said was inspired by his psychology minor.

He took eight different works, written by a several different authors, and tied them together with a dark theme of insanity. He said they share a common element that links them all: dark characters who lost, or never had, the spark of life.

“The reason these pieces came together in this way was that I have a sick sense of humor, that’s basically how it is,” Shelor said. “There’s some people that enjoy making people laugh; there’s some people that enjoy making people cry. I personally find the greatest joy in making people uncomfortable.” 

Five of the works were written by Emerson students, including two written by Shelor and one written by Altschiller. The other three writers are a student at Berklee College of Muisc, a high school friend of Shelor, and a novelist.

Shelor wrote “Stars Above,” a monologue told by a girl pondering stars before being put into a straight jacket.  He also wrote “Not Guilty,” the closing piece, that he said he wrote to connect everything together. It features characters from the other works explaining why they’re not at fault for the outcome of their stories. Altschiller wrote and sang “Flying Free,” a song about a girl in an electric chair finally feeling free as she heads towards the light.

“Because it’s built up by pieces written by so many people, you can almost hear the author in every piece,” Altschiller said. “I think it’s really amazing how there’s all these different voices, but with this common theme going through it.” 

Altschiller acted and sang in several pieces in the show. Shelor said they had worked on many other projects together prior to Dive In Productions being formed. They said they find theater to be the ideal place to talk about important topics that audiences may otherwise try to avoid thinking about, such as those presented in Absence of Light.

Dive In Productions is not planning on becoming recognized by the Student Government Association, Altschiller said, because members want to stay separate from the school in hopes that students from elsewhere will join them. They have a page on the fundraising website Indiegogo that has, at the time of publication, raised $680 of the $600 goal, helping them to produce five shows this semester.

The troupe’s next show is The Things We Did Last Summer on Feb. 14.

“The rest of the school is aware that [theater is] an opportunity, but they may not see their chance to go into something like that,” Shelor said. “Dive In is the middle piece between the theater community and the rest of the community.”