VoxFest is the creation of Vox Theater, a company founded by three Dartmouth alumni working in professional theater. Co-founder Kate Mulley ’05 explains that the company, which provides opportunities for alumni in the theater world to collaborate, was born from discussion at a College holiday party in New York City. Along with Thom Pasculli ’05 and Matthew Cohn ’08, Mulley collaborated with Dartmouth’s department of theater to secure space and workshop a play for a week. That experiment was a success, and after several other productions were staged on campus, the group switched to a summer festival format in 2013. Additional support for VoxFest is provided by the Offices of Alumni Relations, the Dean of Faculty, the Provost and the President, the Monahon Family Fund, and other donors.
The pieces performed during VoxFest are in various stages of development and will be presented in formats ranging from bench readings to stagings with music. One piece, The Calamity by Christopher Wall ’92, was partially written at Dartmouth during a writer’s retreat two years ago and will be presented as a staged reading on July 12.
“We’re very excited to have him come back and dig deeper into the piece,” says Mulley. “It’s really important for playwrights to be able to hear their work out loud after spending so much time at a computer, and also to see how it can be staged and how it looks. This is a very theatrical piece and seeing how it actually works on stage will be [Wall’s] primary interest.”
In contrast, Vox Barter is entirely created the week of the festival. “We never really know what it’s going to be until the night before,” says Mulley.
During the performance, the brainchild of Sarah Hughes ’07, VoxFest artists “take over the Hood for two hours and create little pockets of performance art around the museum,” says Mulley. “Most of them are participatory or engage with the audience in a certain way. A lot of students get involved and then bring their friends to see it and participate, so it really builds the community around the festival and introduces them to what’s going on.”
Dartmouth is an ideal location for this type of event, notes Mulley, because “the audience up here is used to seeing things in progress. They know that it’s not necessarily going to be as polished as a touring show coming to the Hop, but that it’s going to have something special. I think shows like this have more spirit, because they’re sort of ephemeral – you can only see this particular iteration once. For the audience that can be exciting.”
Since the festival’s inception, more than 30 alumni ranging in class year from 1979 to 2015, and several faculty members, have participated. While the festival also includes non-alumni actors and other professionals, Mulley notes that “each project is alumni-generated in some way – it’s either directed, created, or written by an alumnus.”
“We’re thrilled with this association – the relationship that we have with our alums is very important to us, and we try to bring alums in a number of different capacities during the year,” says Jamie Horton, associate professor of theater. This festival has been one of the substantive developments in our department in the past three years.”
That support also creates unusual opportunities for students. For the last three years, Horton has worked with Vox Theater to incorporate students taking Theater 65, Drama in Performance, into the productions. He says the class is “an immersive experience in what it’s like to develop new works,” and says that collaboration with VoxFest is a natural fit for the curriculum.
“By the time students come out of Theater 65 they will have had exposure to the developmental process from a number of different perspectives – that of an actor, a designer, a dramaturge, an assistant director – they really get a wide variety of positions on these new plays,” says Horton. “The professionals are very generous in their willingness to involve the students in a substantive way.”
Mulley says the theater department is “incredibly supportive, in a way that’s very unique to Dartmouth.”
“Working with the students is amazing,” she adds. “Every year we’re reminded how smart and talented and engaged they are. I think there’s real excitement from them and they bring a lot to the shows. Last year we had some student writers working on a show and they’ve been phenomenal.”
VoxFest performances run from July 8-12 and are free to the public. See the full schedule of events.