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‘Bacchae,’ ‘Pirates of Penzance’ Energize New Director at SUNY Oswego

Christopher Carter Sanderson (second from right), a new theater faculty member and veteran New York City-based director, works in Hewitt Union ballroom with members of the cast for "The Bacchae," an adaptation of a classic Greek play that will open the college's 2015-16 theater season in October. From left are students Spencer Ventresca, Max Fehr, stage manager Taylor McCown, Kelci Schlierf and Libbie Wansink.

Christopher Carter Sanderson (second from right), a new theater faculty member and veteran New York City-based director, works in Hewitt Union ballroom with members of the cast for "The Bacchae," an adaptation of a classic Greek play that will open the college's 2015-16 theater season in October. From left are students Spencer Ventresca, Max Fehr, stage manager Taylor McCown, Kelci Schlierf and Libbie Wansink.

OSWEGO — A world-premiere adaptation of a classic Greek tragedy and a rousing musical comedy about a pirate apprentice who wants to retire from pirating highlight the 2015-16 SUNY Oswego theater season, laying out opportunities for Christopher Carter Sanderson, a new faculty member and veteran New York City-based director and producer.

Christopher Carter Sanderson (second from right), a new theater faculty member and veteran New York City-based director, works in Hewitt Union ballroom with members of the cast for "The Bacchae," an adaptation of a classic Greek play that will open the college's 2015-16 theater season in October. From left are students Spencer Ventresca, Max Fehr, stage manager Taylor McCown, Kelci Schlierf and Libbie Wansink.
Christopher Carter Sanderson (second from right), a new theater faculty member and veteran New York City-based director, works in Hewitt Union ballroom with members of the cast for “The Bacchae,” an adaptation of a classic Greek play that will open the college’s 2015-16 theater season in October. From left are students Spencer Ventresca, Max Fehr, stage manager Taylor McCown, Kelci Schlierf and Libbie Wansink.

“The Bacchae,” adapted from Euripides’ famous tragedy, will open the theater season, while “Pirates of Penzance,” a comedic romp by Gilbert and Sullivan, will wrap it up in the spring.

Both plays will run in Hewitt Union ballroom, “The Bacchae” Oct. 23, 24, 29 and 31, “Pirates” April 22, 23 and 29 and May 1.

Sanderson, who as an author and director/producer is a longtime proponent and practitioner of outdoor theater and other adventurous staging, plans some surprises with each production.

For instance, he believes that elements in “The Bacchae” adaptation by Matthew Gasda will prove immersive, stirring and thought-provoking.

“I want (audience members) to get an incredibly entertaining experience,” Sanderson said. “I want them to be moved, I want them to be excited, I want them to be energized, I want them to be inspired. I want them to learn a whole lot of interesting philosophy without even realizing they did. I want them to feel there are new possibilities within themselves because of what they’ve encountered in this production.”

Sanderson credited Oswego’s theater design and technical staff — “the most talented I’ve ever worked with professionally” — with creating a set for the theater-in-the-round presentation of “The Bacchae” that is “kind of an ancient Thebes of the mind,” yet “a bit more Oswego right now than you might think.”

Poetic license

Poetry, Sanderson said, is the language of “The Bacchae.” Gasda, a graduate student at Lehigh University and a previous professional associate of Sanderson’s, wrote the play in verse. “Poetry in the language, poetry in the visual treatment, poetry in the sound treatment, poetry in the movement, which is almost a form of dance. It’s the key to pulling in the audience and inducing them to internalize the play,” he said.

The youngest Greek god, Dionysus, will walk up and down the light grid as the chorus — devout worshippers called “the Bacchae” — dances in and amongst the audience, always moving in tandem, creating what Sanderson calls “a cutting-edge, immersive theatrical experience.”

Sanderson, who in the summer plans to continue his longtime role as artistic director of New York City’s Gorilla Repertory Theater, has produced Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in Washington Square Park for nearly all of the last 26 years, among many other works that he has directed.

One of his goals is to pave the way for talented SUNY Oswego students to work in professional theater in the Big Apple each summer.

Gasda’s “The Bacchae” — due to be published by Serpent Club Press — may prove to be one vehicle for accomplishing that.

“Students get a lot of exposure to theater professionals here in the SUNY Oswego theater department. That’s great, because it gets the students thinking professionally and elevating their standards and giving them all sorts of great ideas about best practice,” he said. “I’m really excited about the possibility of turning that to professional experience in New York. I hope to take ‘The Bacchae’ to Fringe Festival” in New York City.”

“Pirates of Penzance” was chosen — as with “The Bacchae” — well in advance of Sanderson’s hiring. It happens that he has produced the musical comedy in the past, aboard a sailing vessel at the South Street Seaport in New York.

“I felt very familiar with the piece and very excited about co-directing it,” he said.

Todd Graber, chair of the college’s music department, will serve as musical director.

“‘Pirates of Penzance’ is going to be the very best pirate-themed party you’ve ever gone to,” Sanderson said. “We’re hoping to have members of sororities and fraternities showing up as pirates, we’re hoping to have 5-year-old kids showing up dressed as pirates. The cast really extends all the way into the audience. The plot is so dear and so endearing for everyone.”

The musical comedy’s protagonist, Frederic, believes he has served his indenture to a band of good-natured pirates when he reaches his 21st birthday.

Falling in love with Mabel, the daughter of pirate-fighting Major-General Stanley, Frederic soon learns that he actually has 63 years remaining on his indenture — he only has a birthday each leap year, on Feb. 29 — and must sail on without Mabel.

Yet in the true style of the genre, a happy ending is right around the corner.

Songs include “Major-General’s Song,” “Oh, Is There Not One Maiden Breast” and “Poor Wandr’ing One,” among many others.

Tickets for each of these SUNY Oswego theater productions are $15 ($7 for SUNY Oswego students), available at all college box offices, online at tickets.oswego.edu or by calling 315-312-2141.

Parking is included in the price of a ticket.

A preview performance precedes the first day of each play’s run, for $5 a ticket.