Gantz, sporting a Hawaiian shirt (second row, left), is one
of the founders of the student improv group, The Whethermen.
Hes pictured here with five of the other six members
of the cast who are graduating. They are (front row, left
to right): Laura Personick, Ryan Blackledge, Margaret Mincks;
(second row, right): Barry Hite; and (top row) Greg Pokusa.
Not pictured is graduating member Jon Blake.
the University's a stage
performance groups, founded by three graduating students, have
enriched the arts at the University and given students alternative
theatrical voices on Grounds.
Steven Shepard is the common thread for the two groups, Spectrum
Theater and the Whethermen,
which he created with Kevin Neher and Patrick Gantz, respectively.
Theater co-founders, Shepard (government and foreign affairs)
and Neher (government and economics) joined their talents to produce
a multi-racial production of Romeo and Juliet to address
issues of racial divide they saw as first-year students.
on his acting and directing experience at Thomas Jefferson High
School for Science and Technology in Great Falls, Va., Shepard
was the groups artistic director. Neher, a Richmond native,
contributed his organizational and fundraising skills.
bring the racial groups together and make the project a success,
they enlisted the help of another University group, the Paul Robeson
Players. We saw the project as a venue for the diverse student
body to interact, said Shepard.
project was an overwhelming success. More than 2,400 students
attended the performances followed by panel discussions on race
Romeo and Juliet, the student company, adopting the
name Spectrum Theater, continued to produce issue-oriented programs.
1999 they looked to the incoming class for inspiration and produced
Voices of the Class. Through readings, monologues,
skits and musical numbers based on admission essays, they painted
a portrait of the class that answered the question, Who
are we? The production was so successful, it is now a regular
feature of the new-student Orientation Program.
highlight questions about cultural stereotypes, the group then
staged an adaptation of Aristophanes Greek classic, Lysistrata,
set in the Vietnam War era.
Shepard, left, and Kevin Neher co-founded the student-run
and Neher have passed on their leadership roles to others, but
the group carries on the legacy. Spectrum Theater recently produced
Wrights of Spring, a collection of one-act plays written
a different theatrical voice needed to be heard, Shepard and classmate
Patrick Gantz (Fine Arts and Economics) co-founded the popular
improvisational comedy group, the Whethermen. We wanted
to create a different venue for entertainment at U.Va.,
said Gantz, a Fairfax, Va., native who acted in an improv group
at James W. Robinson High School. Our goal was to get the
audience to feel they were part of the evening.
Whethermen have given comedic voice to suggestions from sold-out
audiences since the first show at a coffeehouse on the Corner
in the spring of 1998 and have presented more than 70 shows. A
highlight was a five-act musical at the end of 2000. Taking concepts
and suggestions for sketches from the audience, the actors improvised
a 45-minute performance.
graduation, Gantz will travel to Chicago with five U.Va. graduates
to work day jobs and study part-time with Second City, the famed
comedy improv group that has served as an apprenticeship for dozens
of Saturday Night Live cast members.
Shepard will spend two years with the Peace Corps as an economic
adviser in South America.
an October wedding, Neher plans to settle in Washington, D.C.