Armory Free Theatre hosts student plays

By Vince Dixon

With the exception of Altgeld Hall, the University’s Armory building is possibly the most bizarrely designed structure on campus. Perhaps even stranger is what hides behind the corridor walls of this building’s east entrance.

Stand in line, take a program and enter a basement, rather, a dungeon-like space that is compact, dimly lit and covered in black paint. It is an old, black box theater known as the Armory Free Theatre, and it hosts a number of student produced plays each semester.

Anna Feinberg, junior in FAA and the theater’s manager, said the theater is completely student driven and allows other students to experiment with directing, producing and working with theater technology.

“(The theater) allows for a lot of experimentation and for artists to stretch their boundaries,” Feinberg said.

The space is equipped with black painted furniture and props, and has no stage or fixed seating. Feinberg said this helps directors to utilize the space as they please.

“It allows for a blank slate,” she said. “The director decides how to situate the space.” She added that this even applies to seating.

The theater often looks different with each performance. What does not change are the rusty pipes and small heating vents which run along the brick walls and ceiling of the theater and let off an unintentional tattered coolness. The theater lights are easily seen, and the sound booth is very visible toward the theater’s entrance, all of which add to the theater’s laid-back style.

Elanor Smith, senior in FAA, wrote, directed and starred in an excerpt from “The Empire State,” which was shown at the Armory as a part of the Theatre Studies department’s Winter Project Series. Smith said she enjoyed experimenting with the theater’s unique design and blank slate.

“It being black puts a strain on the certain colors you can use,” she said. “It makes you look at the space in a new way and gives you a challenge to figure out.”

The Theatre Studies’ Winter Projects Series features five plays written by FAA students. Smith said that the students were given a budget and time to rehearse in the theater. They were also given the freedom to fund-raise but were not allowed to charge for performances.

In the end, Smith agreed that the work seemed to pay off. Catherine Allen, senior in FAA, attended Smith’s performance of “The Empire State” and said she enjoyed the show. She added that she appreciated the theater’s design.

“I think it works pretty well,” Allen said. “Having a basic set to this theater allows for the students to interpret it as they want.”

The Winter Projects Series ends this weekend with Jen Goheen’s “How I Learned to Drive,” a story of a growing girl’s sexual relationship with her uncle. As the series ends, Feinberg said the Armory Theatre is preparing for its own upcoming spring season.

The season will feature five plays chosen from the theater’s semesterly application process. The process begins at the beginning and the end of every fall semester when a panel of six students and five faculty members collects a number of script and play proposals. The panel then chooses four for the upcoming season.

Feinberg said she looks forward to this season’s productions.

“This is one of the strongest rounds of proposals that we’ve seen since I’ve been here,” Feinberg said.

She added that, after selection, artists are then able to produce their work and have it performed in the theater. Depending on rights, shows usually receive two or three performances, she added.

Feinberg said her own play is included with this season’s shows. She added that she hopes everyone can enjoy the shows and not just other theater students.

“I think a lot of people don’t realize how great the stuff that happens here really is,” she said.

The season begins March 28. Performances are usually held Fridays at midnight and throughout the weekend. Performances are free. For more information visit www.armoryfreetheatre.org.