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Theatrical alums celebrate Dramashop's 50th anniversary

Traveling to MIT from across the United States and as far away as Singapore, more than 80 former members of MIT's Dramashop returned to the Institute Nov. 19-20 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the co-curricular theater group.

The alumni, who graduated between 1956 and 2005, joined current Dramashop members for a weekend of festivities held in conjunction with the group's most recent production, "Leocadia." In addition to attending the play, participants enjoyed a formal dinner hosted by the theater arts program, feasted on cake at an after-show celebration and shared experiences at a brunch in Kresge Lobby. In the final event of the weekend, alumni joined current members in a Dramashop tradition: striking the set of the current production.

It's unclear when Dramashop was originally founded, but former MIT Professor Joseph Everingham is credited with transforming the program in the 1950s from an extracurricular activity into a co-curricular program. "With Joe Everingham, Dramashop really became a way not only to have fun, but to learn and improve and make better -- and great -- theater," said Dramashop President Helen McCreery, a senior in civil and environmental engineering.

Some of the returning Dramashop alumni have gone on to successful careers in theater since leaving MIT. Daniel Michaelson, who participated in Dramashop in the spring of 1967, went on to earn his M.F.A. from Columbia and become a costume and lighting designer in New York. He now teaches costume design at Bennington College.

While his experience in Dramashop was brief, he recalls it as being one of his most significant experiences at MIT. Studying architecture at the time at Harvard's Graduate School of Design, Michaelson said he "wasn't having success" there and instead found fulfillment with the Dramashop.

Carlos Armesto, who graduated in 1997 with a degree in both chemical engineering and theater, said that when he came to MIT he was "petrified of drama kids." Now Armesto is a producer and director at the Ensemble Studio Theater in New York, where he is producing theater about science and technology.

"Suddenly, for the first time in my life, I've integrated both science and theater," he said, calling MIT "the inspiration for what I've become."

Pursuing careers in theater is "not so terribly uncommon with Dramashop members," said McCreery. "At least, many people continue to do theater, even if not professionally."

What is it about Dramashop that inspires so many to make theater a permanent part of their lives? McCreery gave credit to theater itself. "When you do any play, it takes up enough of your life that it defines that time for you. So people who did a lot of Dramashop plays at MIT will always define their college years, at least partially, in terms of Dramashop," she said. "Plus, it's just so exciting and so much fun!"

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 30, 2005 (download PDF).

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