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Stanford Summer Theater gears up for 15th season

Stanford Summer Theater (SST) will celebrate its 15th annual season this summer with the launch of two plays that will allow Stanford undergraduates to share the stage with professional actors and actresses.

The program aims to introduce undergraduates to professional theater conditions by inviting paid actors and actresses to produce a show with a group of select Stanford performing arts students.

“The purpose is to bring quality theater to the Bay Area, and also to introduce Stanford undergraduates in particular to what it’s like to work in a professional theatrical environment,” said Professor of Drama Rush Rehm Ph.D. ’85, SST’s founder and artistic director, who launched the program in 1997 in an effort to integrate more artistic activity into the Stanford campus.

This year’s season, titled “He’s Funny That Way,” will feature two Irish comedies: “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde and “Happy Days” by Samuel Beckett.

“I work on the selection of the next season during the current season,” Rehm said. “We need to know what we’re doing before we do it.”

Rehm noted that offering the program during the summer allows students to be fully immersed in their role.

“It offers an opportunity for students to really concentrate without the distractions they would normally have when they’re at Stanford,” he said.

Jessica Waldman ’15, an actress in “The Importance of Being Earnest,” agreed that SST’s timing has allowed her to fully focus on her theatrical career.

“It’s a different kind of tone to how the shows are over the year in the drama department, because we’re really working around the clock to put the show up,” Waldman said. “Our director is always on us about exactly how we are saying the words and it is really hard-core.”

According to Waldman, rehearsals began on June 18th and take place six days per week, with each one running eight hours or more.

“We all come home pretty exhausted, because it’s a lot of hours, but it’s also just really fun,” Waldman said. “I’m bonding with the other students who are in the production and it’s a good time.”

Waldman singled out the work of Lynne Soffer, a dialect coach at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, in directing “The Importance of Being Earnest.”

“[Soffer has] been so committed and dedicated to this piece,” Waldman said. “Not only is she coaching it, speech-wise, but it’s her piece because she’s directing it.”

Noemi Berkowitz ’16, student producer and assistant director for “The

Importance of Being Earnest,” described working alongside professionals like Soffer to be highly educational and rewarding.

“The way that [Soffer] dives into all of the text work before we start getting on our feet and start blocking the show really lends itself to a performance in which the actors know exactly what they’re talking about,” Berkowitz said.

Soffer isn’t the only professional in the program with valuable experience to offer. According to Waldman, SST students form personal relationships with the actors and actresses, who in turn support them with advice, guidance and encouragement.

“They are all friendly and approachable…and they’re always ready to share advice,” Waldman said. “They really want us to benefit from their experience.”

This year, SST’s professional actors include Courtney Walsh, Marty Pistone, Don DeMico and Kay Kostopoulos.

“The Importance of Being Earnest” premieres on July 18th at 8 p.m. in Memorial Hall’s Pigott Theater.