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Making Theatre in the University


By James Blaszko, ArtsEmerson Creative Producer

HOUSE / DIVIDED juxtaposes scenes from the current mortgage crisis with passages drawn from John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, revealing how deeply the foreclosure crisis has affected and undermined our collective sense of American character and identity. Based in New York City, The Builders Association found itself in a unique position when devising this work. Through a commission by the Wexner Center of the Arts at Ohio State University, the company was able to create the show in a collaborative university setting outside of the city. Not only were their ideas discussed in a safe space, they were also challenged and expanded upon by students from a spectrum of academic departments.

Through an interview with Chuck Helm, the director of performing arts for the Wexner Center, we learn the nature of the collaboration right from conception: “Our project began with the Builders’ idea for a road trip and the impact of foreclosure. Then we enlisted past partners in the Department of Theatre for an expanded role and more in-depth interaction with Builders. And then we expanded organically to engage all the diverse academic partners that agreed to explore these ideas with us.” These interactions included multiple in-class sessions with departments ranging from architecture to finance.

To see how the production benefitted from an extended residency in a university, take a look at the video below:

Of course The Builders aren’t the first company to find success with the help of academia. Here in Boston, companies such at the Huntington and the American Repertory Theatre function within an academic institution. Their production may not necessarily be devised in the same way as HOUSE / DIVIDED, but the conversations between artists and students are equally engaging.

As our title suggests, we at ArtsEmerson also work collaboratively within an academic institution. Emerson College strives to bring innovation to communication and the arts, and in partnership with ArtsEmerson and HowlRound, the college is living up to their mission. Through various workshops, lectures, and rehearsal observations, students at Emerson College have the opportunity to start a conversation with the artists that we present.

Are you a student, educator, or theater maker who has found success in academic/artistic collaboration? Share your story below!


HOUSE / DIVIDED will play at the Emerson/Cutler Majestic Theatre from Jan 30-Feb 2nd. For more information and tickets, visit our website here

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