‘My Dorian’ Receives Rave Reviews from Critics
Connor Norton is the president of the Starving Artists. He attended the Dublin Gay Theatre Arts Festival in May – this is their experience through his eyes.
Old Dominion University’s student-operated Theatre production company the Starving Artists (TSA) were recently honored, along with ODU, as being one of the few college theatre organizations – and the first American college – to be selected to perform in the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival (IDGTF) in May. I am TSA’s president and a little over a year ago I met with Ricardo Melendez, artistic director of the Workshop Theatre Group, with an interest to producing a play that told the story of Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray.”
After reading several versions, and much debate along the way, we agreed that the best way to allow students to share the importance of the text with their peers was to adapt the original text ourselves – and so TSA’s first original production “My Dorian” was born. The production was created with the goal of showing students the underlying themes of Wilde’s work in a way that would impact the younger generations.
The production initially launched as a fundraiser for the ODU Gay-Cultural Studies Endowment Campaign which raised $400 for their efforts to include LGBTQ studies in the course curriculum options at ODU. It wasn’t until a few months after the production that we were made aware of the IDGTF and was told it might be interesting to see if such a feat would be possible. We provided the festival with information on the production, logistics of run time and technical needs and three months after the information was reviewed, TSA was invited as one of three American based theatre companies to perform in the 2014 Gay Theatre Festival.
The festival was founded by Brian Merriman back in 2004 to mark the 150th birthday of Oscar Wilde, Ireland’s most (in)famous gay novelist and writer. Merriman always felt that art and theatre were some of the greatest ways for the LGBTQ community to express their struggles. The festival’s website read that it “creates new opportunities for visibility and affirmation for existing and emerging gay artists and theatrical works.”
Since the festival’s beginning, it has seen an astronomical growth, now including theatre companies from Australia, England, South Africa, United States and Israel. The festival has truly captured a diverse audience that works to include all intersections of LGBTQ audiences. The festival has invited European based theatre companies in the past, mostly to perform small excerpts, but ODU was the first time in 5 years any university had been invited to participate, let alone an American college putting on a full scale production. Although a risk and a worry of an American theatre company bringing work based off a famous Irish writer, directors of festival felt that the TSA’s drive and creative talent to work on such a youthful adaptation was worth working with.
The risk paid off, for all who were involved. The production saw great audience responses and a wonderful review from the festival critics.
The boar od the IDGTF said, “There is a strong sense of style from this American student drama team as they bring some classic Wilde to Dublin. Student productions are always challenged by meeting the age range of the characters but have no difficulty in presenting a most handsome a physically fit naked Dorian. Dorian Gray is not a play but a novel and as such has its challenges when transferring to theatre. In this Starving Artists was successful. The script is tight and to the point. It is selective in its inclusion and conveys core text well. The playing of Victorian characters and the use of language remains a challenge at times but nevertheless the charm of the presentation came through. There were moments of exquisite design, beautiful colour and appropriate nudity. The playing of Dorian naked makes sense in his complete capacity to beguile and inspire lustful devotion. This young team under the direction of Ricardo Melendez tackled a challenging piece of theatre and earned considerable credit.”
The critics, guests and touring viewers all had wonderful things to say about the talent of TSA’s young actors and our ability to hold such a complex and difficult show together.
Recognition towards us didn’t end there – at the end of every festival is a closing awards gala held in honor of Oscar Wilde and to present awards to the casts of the productions who were “above and beyond” in their year’s line-up. It was certainly a surprise when TSA was nominated for two of the closing year gala awards; a first for any college organization.
The first nomination was for TSA’s costume designer Amber White, for the “Hilton Edwards Award for Best Aspect of a Production Design” for her masterful work on the costumes. The second award was a nomination for the entire company for the prestigious “Doric Wilson Intercultural Dialogue Award” given to a theatre company that demonstrates great effort in being able to provoke change and awareness of the LGBTQ audiences.
For getting so much support from our university, and strong great effort in educating people on the works of Wilde in our school’s literature classes, we were nominated for this high award; although no wins, it was the first time a college group was even consider for such an honor…which is a victory of its own.
By Connor Norton
Mace & Crown