Some Students, All the University's A Stage
the University of Virginia by Giving Voice to the Community
9, 2001-- Two performance groups, founded by three
graduating students, have enriched the arts at the University of
Virginia and given students alternative theatrical voices on Grounds.
Shepard is the common thread for the 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 group's 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 issues.
"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
highlight questions about cultural stereotypes, the group then staged
an adaptation of Aristophanes' Greek classic, "Lysistrata," set
in the Vietnam War era.
Shepard and Neher have passed on their leadership roles to others,
the group carries on the legacy. Spectrum Theater recently produced
"Wrights of Spring," a collection of one-act plays written by students.
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, 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
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.
will spend two years with the Peace Corps as an economic adviser
in South America.
an October wedding, Neher plans to settle in the Washington, D.C.
Jane Ford, (804) 924-4298