Academics and Research

Theater students cast and direct their own shows for annual Capstone Festival

A student actor is shown in a scene from a previous Senior Capstone Festival. This year's event

A student actor is shown in a scene from a previous Senior Capstone Festival. This year’s event will be staged in two seven-day cycles, one beginning April 8, the second in May.

As the curtain sets on their final year at the University of Denver, theater majors channel all their dramatic know-how into the Department of Theatre’s annual Senior Capstone Festival, a 14-day whirlwind of short productions selected and directed by graduating thespians.

This year’s Capstone Festival showcases the work of seven seniors. Their productions will be staged in two seven-day cycles, one in April, the second in May (see schedule below). In the first cycle, three of the plays are presented together. The second cycle features four shows.

For students, the festival represents a chance to put their four years of classroom instruction to full use. For audiences, the festival offers an eclectic mix of plays simply unavailable elsewhere. The productions also demonstrate how, with limited time and resources, students can conjure magic.

“Each student is given $500 and two and a half weeks [to bring the show to life],” says Steven McDonald, an assistant professor who serves the department as technical director and production manager.

Students use the funds to buy materials for sets or costumes, to purchase props, or, if they’re staging, say, a rock opera, to pay musicians. They use the time to oversee everything that goes into a show — from auditions and casting to the construction of scenery, from the fitting of costumes to the final dress rehearsals.

In the past, some students even chose to write their own plays. For 2015, McDonald says, one student has translated her selection from the German.

The point of all this creativity is to ensure that graduates leave the department well versed in every aspect of their art form.

“The idea is that they take all the things they have learned in their classes and apply them,” McDonald explains, noting that the capstone experience pushes students outside their areas of specialization. An actor will learn what a lighting designer needs to excel, while someone who prefers technical challenges will be charged with giving an actor the insight needed to inhabit a character.

They’ll also learn the critical importance of attention to every last detail. For example, in casting “Eat Cake,” a production scheduled for Cycle 2, the director needed to be sure that any actress handling the lead role could meet an odd demand: consumption of an entire cake by show’s end. Consequently, the audition required that every candidate for the role ingest at least two slices.

In addition to executing all the responsibilities of a director, the senior has to motivate other students — all volunteers — to participate. “They have to make people interested in and excited about their project. And keep them interested and excited,” McDonald says, noting that students from around campus audition for roles. “We have engineers and science folks and volleyball players — lots of different folks from all walks of life.”

The capstone also provides DU students an opportunity they wouldn’t find in many other theater programs, where seniors are more likely to be assigned final papers than productions. “This is something that has to be realized,” McDonald explains. “It’s a project-management experience, from the very beginning to the very end.”

For senior Lexie Robbins, the Capstone Festival has allowed her to go beyond her passions for acting and playwriting to cultivate her skills as a manager.

In staging John Pielmeier’s “A Ghost Story,” she has relied on student talent to help her make wise decisions about how to costume and light the show to enhance its scary qualities.

“I feel like [the process] is more collaborative than ‘I am in charge,’ me driving the bus,” she explains. “It has made me realize I don’t have to know everything in order to be a capable leader.”


Presenting … The 2015 Capstone Festival


Cycle 1

Cycle 1 runs at 7:30 p.m. April 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12, with 2 p.m. matinees scheduled for April 11 and 12. All productions take place in the JMAC Studios 
in Johnson McFarlane Hall. Tickets are $10.


“There Shall Be No Bottom (A Bad Play for Worse Actors)”

Written by Mark O’Donnell

Directed by Nicole Campbell


Nothing can help the actors in “There Shall Be No Bottom (A Bad Play for Worse Actors).” Jeff can’t seem to remember his lines, while Joe skips ahead in the script. Jane cannot let go of her ingénue days, and they must wait for Jarrod who is stuck in traffic to make his cue. While the actors try to solve the mysterious melodrama that is their play, we begin to wonder if the real mystery is how these people have a job.


“A Thing I Cannot Name”

Written by Matthew Minnicino

Directed by Adeline Mann

Leo and Lee are trying. They want This Thing To Work Out. Watch them test every conceivable answer to the equation: him + her + X = Love [solve for X] — or die trying. A slice of meta-theater featuring both the martial and performance arts, naughty language, silly voices and love triumphant (maybe).



“Fissures (Lost and Found)”

Written by Steve Epp, Cory Hinkle, Dominic Orland, Dominique Serrand, Deborah Stein and Victoria Stewart

Directed by Tony Ryan

An exploration of memory: how it changes, fragments and disappears through the process of remembering.


Cycle 2

Cycle 2 runs at 7:30 p.m. May 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10, with 2 p.m. matinees scheduled for May 9 and 10. All productions take place in the JMAC Studios 
in Johnson McFarlane Hall. Tickets are $10.



Written by Marco Ramirez

Directed by Cicely Galm

Laz and Hector tell the story of one star-scarred night in which they turn to their cars to escape from reality and end up taking the kind of ride that changes you forever.


“Eat Cake”

Written by Jean Claude van Itallie

Directed by Jasmine Szympruch


A biting satire in which a frowsy housewife is visited by an eccentric rapist, whose demands are somewhat different from what might be anticipated.


“A Ghost Story”

Written by John Pielmeier

Directed by Lexie Robbins

Two hikers seek shelter from a winter blizzard in an isolated cabin. They are joined by a mysterious girl. To while away the time, the three tell ghost stories — at first vividly fanciful and then increasingly disquieting.



Adapted and Directed by H. E. Young

In this updated take on Georg Büchner’s mid-19th century masterpiece, a man is driven mad by scientific progress and discovers a terrible secret that severs his tenuous grip on reality.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *