Reaching for the stars

LCC’s summer theater entertains and educates


Lansing Community College’s lineup of free summer theater is back in full swing this year, with a classic Shakespearian comedy, a festival of short student plays and the post-pandemic return of the popular percussion concert “La Batterie,” conducted for the last time by Mike Daniels, who’s retiring after more than two decades of teaching at the school.

Paige Tufford has produced LCC’s concerts and performances for six years. She holds a master of fine arts in directing and has worked in professional and community theater for 35 years. She said the two-year program at LCC is small and cohort-like, with students developing friendships that last a lifetime.

“I know people who went through our program 20 years ago who are still best friends,” she said.

LCC theater majors typically number 12 to 15 students each semester. The shows are produced with participation from community members and alumni.

“They’re learning and honing their skills together. They’re watching each other grow and supporting each other over the course of the program. It becomes a really close-knit group,” Tufford said.

The first show of the season, running June 26 through 30 at the school’s Outdoor Amphitheater, is “As You Like It,” directed by local theater veteran Mary Job. She said she loves directing Shakespeare because “once a student encounters Shakespeare, they never take words in a script for granted again.”

The production is set in what Job describes as an alternate reality, but no place in particular.

“It borrows from some aspects of modernity, some aspects of medieval, and we have the forest,” she said. “The people in the Forest of Arden have a bohemian vibe, while the people in Federica’s court are rigid, stratified, hierarchical and, quite frankly, a paranoid society.”

She continued, “And, of course, I love the heroine. Of all of Shakespeare’s heroines, I think Rosalind is the most engaging. Her family has been exiled. She doesn’t belong in the court. But when she enters the forest, she really finds herself.”

LCC’s second show of the season is "La Batterie" July 14 at the Dart Auditorium. According to Tufford, this percussion concert has built an enthusiastic following over the years.

“It's a very popular concert among the music community — not just LCC, but the community in Lansing. The members are called the Bash Battalion. It’s very well-attended,” she said.

Two or three local bands will join the performance. According to LCC’s website, the setlist will include original pieces by Daniels. It’s described as a farewell concert for Daniels, who began “La Batterie” at LCC in the early 1980s.

At the end of July, LCC students will perform a festival of 10-minute plays written by their peers. Molly Sullivan, 24, is one of seven directors for the festival. She works in enrollment at LCC and went through its theater program, but this is her first time directing.

“I worked with LCC on stage as a student, and as an alum, I’ve done some stage management and stayed involved with the great professors. Paige presented me with the opportunity to direct and get more experience,” she said.

Sullivan and the other directors are just starting their rehearsal processes. They held auditions last week, where about 25 people came out to read for the shows.

“I’m coming to realize that it’s a lot of work,” Sullivan said. “When you’re on the acting side of things, you just show up and do it. But when you’re directing, you’re making the tough decisions of choosing your cast and coordinating schedules because some actors are in multiple shows. It's definitely been eye-opening to see how much has to go into it before you even jump into the rehearsal space.”

Sullivan will direct the play “Hot Sauce in Da Fridge,” by Chandler Donelson.

“It’s about four friends who are working together to create the most perfect burrito. It’s very comedic, so I’m dipping my toe into that. And it’s got a twist ending that everyone loves,” she said.
Of the six 10-minute plays in the festival, Sullivan said, “There are diverse themes because the students were pulling from whatever inspiration they had. There are comedic pieces and more open-ended or dramatic scripts. There’s something for everyone to tap into.”

Sullivan added, “It’s great that we’re showcasing student work and encouraging new works to become part of the Lansing theater scene. There's so much untapped talent around this area. To provide this show for the community is really wonderful, and I’m excited to be part of it.”

After students like Sullivan complete their degrees at LCC, they can choose from a variety of paths.

“People can choose to transfer after they get their associate’s, they may choose to transition into professional theater through internships, or they may pursue another interest. We ask our students where they want to go and help them get there,” Tufford said.

She noted that recently, a student was accepted into the bachelor of fine arts program at Western Michigan University. LCC helped the student with the audition process and finding the necessary contacts and information.

Other students may choose to enter professional theater through internships with equity houses, which are theaters where unions represent actors and stagehands. Or, Tufford said, students might go in a totally new direction.

“A theater degree is so helpful in many areas. You can work in sales, be a lawyer, you can work with people. A theater degree teaches you how to connect, how to listen and how to collaborate. There are so many skills that can cross over to different fields and different professions.”



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