SIPA’s short and sweet student theatre

Concordia’s Short Works Festival presents student groups’ term-long self-run theatre projects: great theatre in small doses.

Promotional graphic for Concordia’s Short Works Festival.

What student theatre lacks in budget and professional experience, it usually compensates for in its fearlessness and inventiveness. Such is likely to be the case with the Concordia Theatre Department’s SIPA Short Works Festival. Teams of theatre students enroll in a class jointly, after the department accepts their proposals for 20- to 40-minute productions. Making use of Concordia’s resources for the semester, the students manage all aspects from direction and acting, to stage management, lighting, design, sound and advertising.

Work for the productions begins well before the semester starts. Second-year Concrdia student Sydney Shapansky, the writer, director and chief producer of Not Suitable for Children, explains the process. “The idea first came from my chief actor, Gabriel [Schultz]. I had the first draft of the script finished and my whole team in mind before I submitted the proposal. Even so, the production has changed over the course of the semester.”

Rather than antagonism towards the other teams, collaboration is essential. Shapansky says, “Other teams give feedback on the preliminary and final design, as well as parts of the show. They don’t need to give feedback, but they do: colleague to colleague, peer to peer.”

“Each production has its own story behind it, and they’re all quite interesting,” Shapansky says. “That’s the great thing about the class. We focus on our own show, but see the other shows grow, their obstacles and the steps they had to take from where they started to where they’ve gotten.”

Not Suitable for Children is a psychodrama based on the James Bulger murder that took place in 1993. Shapansky explains, “Two men murdered a classmate together. The play takes place during their first meeting, after they have been tried, convicted, sentenced and released. There’s a focus on the human mind and if rehabilitation is possible for a person who has done a terrible thing. Can you be cleansed of being deemed a sociopath by society, or is that who you are forever going to be?”

Shapansky speaks warmly about the experience of working with her team on the show. “I have confidence in all of them. It takes a lot of the weight off when people are willing to give 110% without asking for it.”

However, Shapansky also discovered that productions require more expertise than she originally expected. “We don’t have a designer,” she says, “I had to spend hours and hours in design studio learning how to do ground plans and other things I have no experience in. When you see the set plans of the other teams, they are elaborate. Ours is a couch and a table.”

Sharpansky was not defeated by the experience. “We are unique in that we have a sound designer and cinematographer. We have a beautiful soundtrack to our show and a nice piece of film. It kind of compensates for the lack of a fancy set.”

“Next time,” she adds, “I’ll have a designer.”

Shapansky describes some of the other productions. “I’m very interested in Idem Eadem Idem, a movement-based collective creation. They worked without a script. There’s also one show that can’t even be named (Untitled) because it ran into copyright issues. They finally got permission to do the show, but can’t advertise the show for its content.”

“It’s a cool and unique experience” she says. “This is why I studied theatre.”  ■

The SIPA Short Works Festival runs March 7-10 at Concordia University (F. C. Smith Audiotorium, 7141 Sherbrooke St. W.). Tickets $5/$2 students.


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