When theater director Carolyn Cantor ’93 returned to Dartmouth last week, she set foot in the Hop’s rehearsal rooms for the first time since graduation. The feeling was surreal. “So much of my college experience was spent in this building,” she tells me, as we sit in the Hop lobby between rehearsals. “It feels like five minutes ago, and also a lifetime ago.”
It’s been 26 years. In 1993, the young Dartmouth alumna—armed with an English degree, a few drama classes, and years of extracurricular theater experience—moved to New York to pursue acting. She spent several years dabbling in theater, film, and assisting before a mentor nudged her towards directing. Cantor has since gone on to direct dozens of plays, with a focus on new, Off-Broadway productions.
She came back to the Hop this summer as a New York Theater Workshop (NYTW) annual summer residency participant. Now in its 28th year, the three-week program invites writers, directors, and actors to Hanover to develop projects. Dartmouth theater students get involved, and each week culminates with public performances on the Hop stage. “There’s no prescribed agenda for the performance,” says Cantor. “It’s really for the artists to use the time they need but have the opportunity to share and see how it feels with an audience.”
In New York, Cantor had been working with playwright Jordan Seavey on a production titled The Seven Year Disappear, a story of a mother and son reunited seven years following the mother’s mysterious disappearance. After applying and getting accepted to the NYTW residency, Seavey invited Cantor, as well as actors Lusia Strus and Michael Cyril Creighton, to join him and workshop the piece in Hanover.
Back downstairs in the rehearsal room, two Dartmouth students help the group prep script pages for the afternoon’s work: practicing a segment to be performed live the next evening. As participants in the Department of Theater’s THEA 65: Summer Theater Lab, these students sit in on rehearsals, offer feedback, and sometimes even take on performative or production roles. “It’s cool to see how the process works,” says one student, film major John Fulton ’21. “It’s definitely a work in progress, and it’s very much a conversation between Carolyn, the playwright, and the actors.”
Cantor remembers being in Fulton’s place back when she was at Dartmouth. Her junior year she stayed on campus to participate in the NYTW, an experience so positive she decided to stay and do it again the next summer. It played a role in her ultimate decision to move to New York and pursue theater; later, through the workshop, she met the mentor who suggested she try directing.
“I remember being just so in awe of the New York Theater Workshop artists when I was a student,” Cantor says. “At that time I thought, if I could ever do that, it would be a dream come true. So, to be back here doing it is pretty special.”