In the mid-1980s, the Washington D.C. area lacked theatre that engaged in social and political issues. For Cheryl Faraone, Richard Romagnoli and Jim Petosa, this was a problem. With connections from their college days they were able to establish their off-Broadway theatre company, aiming to bring political commentary to the nation’s most political city. With success it became their signature, and since then the Potomac Theatre Project (PTP) has combined veteran and emerging talent to create politically-conscious theatre.

Eventually, the company moved to New York City and now offers an annual five-week program during the summer in which the company produces and performs two or three productions. Faraone and Romagnoli, who are both theatre professors at the college, serve as the program’s co-directors.
The summer program is designed to immerse Middlebury students who are interested in pursuing a career in the entertainment industry within a professional environment.

“From the beginning the idea was to provide a bridge from the work that students do [at Middlebury] to the work they might want to do in the future,” Faraone said.

The eight to 12 students who participate in PTP each year are given a taste of what the industry is actually like. They live in New York City in lodgings provided by the program and work with professionals who make up around half the cast. These professionals are often veterans of 10 to 15 years in the industry and many are graduates of Middlebury who reconnect with the college to help mentor students.

PTP participants are encouraged not only to bond with their fellow Middlebury students but to reach out to the professionals.

“They need really to have their game upped by playing opposite people who are better than they are and more experienced than they are,” Faraone said.

This year’s PTP class features Ashley Fink ’18.5, Sebastian LaPointe ’18, Olivia Christie ’19, Miguel Castillo ’18, Eliza Renner ’18, Madeline Russell ’19, Madeline Ciocci ’20, Noah Liebmiller ’17.5, Roxy Adviento ’18, Stephanie Miller ’20 and Coralie Tyler ’20. They will showcase “Brecht on Brecht,” arranged by George Tabori, “The Possibilities” by Howard Barker and “The After Dinner Joke” by Carol Churchill. “Brecht on Brecht” is a compilation of poetry and prose by the German political writer Berthold Brecht and songs by Brecht and Kurt Weill, while “The Possibilities” is a one-act work containing a collection of ten-minute long parables and “The After Dinner Joke” is a satirical work about working for a charity.

Auditions for PTP are held every December, but not all student participants work on the productions as actors. Tyler, for example, has been recruited as an assistant stage manager for the summer. She is interested in the production side of theatre, including writing, stage management and costuming, even though she does not shy away from acting.

Tyler noted that the theatre department is unique concerning the relationship between professors and students, which helps reinforce the values of collaboration, professionalism and artistic creation that the theatre department instills in its pupils.

“You are an artist and creator first, before you are a student,” she said. “Let’s say you’re in the faculty show, you look at [your professor] as a director first, or a director helping fellow directors or a playwright helping fellow playwrights.”

“I loved creating the final product,” Renner said, who participated in PTP last summer in Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia” and will return this summer. “Being a part of every element of the creation was really rewarding.”

Students who participate in PTP shows not only act, but they also become involved in all aspects of their productions. Renner said she learned about hanging lights, proper protocol for press in the box office position, what an equity contract looks like and the role of a professional stage manager.

Renner sees herself working in the entertainment industry after college and she feels that the PTP helped her predict how her future is going to be, which gave her confidence.

“It’s always going to be [a] hustle,” she said, “and you have to be willing to work really hard and say yes to the exciting and glamorous things and also to the weird and underwhelming things. You have to ask for what you want and make your own opportunities… The connections I’ve made through PTP have already opened doors for me.”

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