As the group of college students filters into room 219 of the Fine Arts Instructional Center at Eastern Connecticut State University, the energy level is palpable and there is excitement in the air. This is a business meeting, but it soon becomes clear that the atmosphere of the organization is regularly more casual than formal. Club president Lucy Shea greets the members and engages in lighthearted, cheerful conversations while the group gets settled. As the entirety of the club assembles, the task of quieting them down and gaining their attention becomes a blithe challenge; its members—who are undoubtedly close friends—are still chatting amongst themselves.
Despite the slight struggle of getting everyone to “shut up,” as the President puts it, the club’s charm irrefutably lies in its intimacy and friendliness between members.
Despite this informal attitude, the group demonstrates that it has no problem getting down to business. “Okay, everyone,” Shea declares, “today’s meeting is gonna be brief, because we have to get downstairs for Hamlet rehearsal.
So shut your beautiful mouths and listen up.” She grabs some paperwork from the table behind her and quickly goes through the motions (pun intended).
One of the association’s weekly responsibilities is voting on reimbursement for supplies and equipment for the many theatre department productions. It is usually the professors themselves who purchase the necessary items, and since they all have a close-knit relationship to the club (all of whom have a first-name basis with their students), the group always unanimously votes in favor of repaying them for their troubles.
In this week’s meeting (Wednesday, March 22nd), there are four motions, which are dealt with efficiently and matter-of-factly. It is evident that the real purpose of the group’s assembly is yet to come.
The formalities out of the way, Shea then changed gears and dismisses those members who are not in the cast of the club’s current theatrical production—a forty-minute children’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s arguably best-known play, Hamlet. This version, titled Hamlet: For Kids of All Ages, blends direct quotes from the original play itself with modern vernacular and colloquialisms to create an amusing and relatable retelling of the tragedy, perfect for a youth audience. The cast grabs their scripts and props and travels down a flight of stairs to the DelMonte Studio Theatre a small black box theatre with 90 seats used to establish a more close, intimate relationship between performers and audience.
For two hours, the cast runs through and drills the production-practicing line memorization, blocking, character motivations, physicality, and intentions. There is a thrilling sense of energy and urgency in the room; the show, after all, is in three days.
This club is the Eastern Drama Society, an organization consisting entirely of ECSU students that focuses on bringing theatre to the university, separate from the professional main- stage season. All of its performances are supplemental-additional shows that are put on entirely by eager and ambitious students who want to experience theatrical leadership positions firsthand. As opposed to the main-stage shows at Eastern, these are not overseen by the professional faculty members of the department; rather, the professors provide wisdom and advice throughout the process but mostly leave the end result up to the student, creating a fulfilling atmosphere of risk and reward.
Through observation and analysis of the group’s structure and goals, it becomes clear that the ECSU Drama Society is a form of discourse community, through which the desires of theatre practitioners to spread theatre to the public and reveal the benefits of drama on society are actively set in motion.