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VSAA alumnus returns to help school produce play

Students' work focuses on plight of refugees

By , Columbian Education Reporter
Published: January 19, 2017, 6:01am
5 Photos
Students in the advanced theater class at Vancouver School of Arts and Academics rehearse an original production, "Neither Nor Both And: What's Left Behind," in the black box theater. Theater teacher Judy Goff and VSAA alumnus Spenser Theberge collaborated on the original play. (Ariane Kunze/The Columbian)
Students in the advanced theater class at Vancouver School of Arts and Academics rehearse an original production, "Neither Nor Both And: What's Left Behind," in the black box theater. Theater teacher Judy Goff and VSAA alumnus Spenser Theberge collaborated on the original play. (Ariane Kunze/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

For the advanced theater students at Vancouver School of Arts and Academics, every move they make across the school’s black box theater is a struggle.

About 15 students embody pain, fear and confusion as they tear themselves from one corner of the stage to another in a performance blending dance with drama.

“I make a plan, and I stick to it,” 18-year-old Cassie Paulsen shouts or whispers at various points over the course of a 20-minute performance. Her voice is sometimes louder than her classmates’, sometimes drowned out as each student repeats lines describing hurt or determination.

It’s a balance of frenetic energy and softness that define VSAA’s advanced theater group’s performance of an original production, “Neither Nor Both And: What’s Left Behind.” After being delayed a week due to Vancouver Public Schools’ eight snow days, the performance will be unveiled at 6 p.m. Friday.

The play, written by theater instructor Judy Goff and VSAA alumnus Spenser Theberge, is a loose adaptation of “The Trojan Women,” a 2,500-year-old Greek play exploring the aftermath of the fall of Troy. Students blended lines from the original text, and researched the stories of refugees over the course of history to create a production exploring the immediate aftermath of people displaced by war or other tragedies.

If You Go

 What: “Neither Nor Both And: What’s Left Behind,” an original theater production.

 Where: In the black box theater of Vancouver School of Arts and Academics, 3101 Main St., Vancouver.

 When: 6 p.m. Friday.

 Cost: Free.

 More: The performance will be followed by the school’s Winter Dance Concert in the Durst Theater at 7 p.m. Tickets to that performance are $4 general admission, $3 for students with ASB cards and senior citizens.

“It’s the experience of people after their lives have been destroyed,” Goff said. “It’s the destruction of Troy. It’s the destruction of Aleppo.”

The collaboration has been a long time coming for the pair, who have remained fast friends in the years since Theberge was a student in Goff’s class. Theberge graduated from VSAA in 2005 before going on to study at The Juilliard School, then dance with troupes across Europe. This partnership also represents an opportunity for Theberge to mentor students and show them where their passion for performance can take them, Goff said.

“I deeply want for my students to know it’s possible to create out there,” Goff said, “to have this life as an artist.”

For students used to performing in more linear, structured productions, “Neither Nor Both And: What’s Left Behind” has posed unique challenges.

Taking a risk

Students played a role in writing the play by researching refugees from hundreds of years of history and many countries. Each student picked a quote from the subject of their research, and repeats it throughout the duration of the performance. Students’ movements are improvised with certain restrictions imposed by Goff and Theberge, meaning each run-through is slightly different from the last.

“I could not be more proud of their fearlessness and their risk-taking as performers,” Goff said. “The sophistication of these students has made me really joyful.”

Paulsen, the senior, studied an Israeli man whose primary mission in times of struggle was taking care of his family, she said, hence the line “I make a plan, and I stick to it.”

“I was inspired by his dedication,” she said.

That research has given students investment in their roles.

“You can tell they’re taking responsibility for their parts,” Theberge said. “It’s a beautiful thing to watch.”

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