“We’re like the push-up bra of student theater,” joked Kacie Smith, director of marketing for Basement Arts and senior in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance.
From troublesome relationships with imaginary friends in “Mr. Marmalade” to Santa’s reindeer outlining his sexual escapades in “Eight Reindeer Monologues,” Basement Arts has a number of entertaining scripts that will come alive on the stage of Studio One in the Walgreen Drama Center this season.
Basement Arts is a student-run organization on campus that produces free theater, and is most notable for hosting original productions like “A Very Potter Musical” and “A Very Potter Sequel,” which have gained national recognition and a performance at Universal Studio’s Harry Potter theme park, as well as “Me and my Dick,” with a soundtrack that made the Billboard charts. The organization provides an outlet for students to pursue their interest in theater outside of mainstream University shows.
“We’re able to do things that other student groups on campus and the department of theater can’t do,” said Corey Lubowich, co-artistic director for Basement Arts and a Senior in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance. “It’s really a place where students from all over campus can come and sort of dive in and get dirty, if you will.”
The name “Basement Arts” comes from its birthplace in the basement of the Frieze Building, which was the home of the theater department before it got knocked down (North Quad has since risen in its place.) With the move to Studio One on North Campus, the distance from Central Campus has concerned some students.
“Walgreen Drama Center … isn’t as far as people think,” Smith said. “People are so afraid of North Campus if they’ve never been there; it’s just like a 10-minute bus ride.”
Funding from the theater department affords Basement Arts the chance to not charge their audience for admittance.
“When people hear ‘free’ they’re like ‘Oh cool, it’s free,’ ” Smith said, though she also acknowledged that free theater can have a certain low-quality stigma.
“In our opinion, our shows match or even surpass the quality of University productions,” she added. “You’re not going to get the same technical elements because our budget is a lot smaller, but there are some really quality performances and fun shows.”
Shows usually involves five directors, six designers and three- to 13-person casts. They can come from any major or school at the University.
“Everyone can be involved, everyone can produce shows and anyone can propose to direct a show,” Smith said. “One thing we’ve been working at is to kind of expand our base and let people know that they can audition.”
The season lineup is created through a proposal system, in which scripts are submitted and reviewed by the 26-person Basement Arts board.
“It’s up to the directors to choose what shows they want to propose, which is why we have such an eclectic season,” Smith explained. “We look for things that push limits and push the boundaries of what we’ve done before, and things that have never been done by the University productions.”
“Ultimately the school still needs people to buy tickets so that kind of influences what they pick,” Lubowich added, explaining the difference between these shows and those of Basement Arts.
While most student production groups only produce about two shows a year, Basement Arts puts on 10 to 14.
“Since we do so many productions, there’s room to do something quirkier,” Lubowich explained. “It’s not like our eggs are all in one basket, we spread it out over the season; there’s something for everyone. It might be a really dark contemporary play that makes you sick to your stomach one week, and one week it’s ‘Me and my Dick.’ ”
A smaller stage and intimate atmosphere connect the audience to the productions.
“It’s a really different experience when you’re in this tiny theater with 100 different people as opposed to the Power Center with 1,500 people,” Lubowich said. “There’s electricity and magic that happens there, and that’s really exciting to me as a designer, director and as a supporter of the theater and the arts.”
The kickoff for the season will be “Mr. Marmalade,” directed by Olivia Lloyd, a sophomore in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, and will envelop theatergoers with its dark and chilling themes.