Marketing & Communications

Theaters in Transition at BGSU Firelands

Hairspray

The theater arts have consistently played a significant role at BGSU Firelands College dating back to the opening of the campus in 1969 – even before it had a designated performance auditorium.  

The theater program has always been not only an educational tool for students, but also a means of engaging the community and providing an opportunity for cultural enrichment.  Some recent transitions in the two contemporary theater programs, Firelands College Theatre and Caryl Crane Youth Theatre, have solidly reaffirmed the college’s commitment to those same ideals.

Firelands College Theatre, the primary vehicle for academic courses related to theater arts, recently introduced Grechen Wingerter as the new director and full-time instructor.

“I was attracted to Firelands because it offers the resources of a larger state school, but the campus has the community feel of a smaller institution,” said Wingerter. “The smaller class sizes allow me to build relationships with my students and really get to know them.”  

Wingerter was most recently an adjunct professor of theater and guest director at Lycoming College, in Williamsport, Pa., and she has directed more than 30 productions throughout the last 10 years.  She earned a master’s degree in fine arts from the University of Idaho and a bachelor’s degree in acting from Illinois State University.

Wingerter’s first production at BGSU Firelands was “Proof” by award-winning playwright David Auburn.

“We select plays that offer the most opportunities for our students,” said Wingerter, “not only for acting, but also in design and production.”

According to Wingerter, variety is important, as is making selections that appeal to the public. “One of our biggest challenges is getting the word out,” she said. “Our students are talented and provide quality entertainment.”

While the Firelands College Theatre acquired new leadership, the college’s second theater program acquired a new name. What was formerly known as the Caryl Crane Children’s Theatre has now become the Caryl Crane Youth Theatre (CCYT).

“It’s a more inclusive title and more appropriate, given our mission and audience,” said third-year Artistic Director Brian Marshall.  Performers in CCYT productions typically range in age from 6 to 18.

CCYT offers five productions each year and, according to Marshall, one of the most challenging aspects of the program is maintaining relevancy. “We strive to identify productions, performances and teaching methods that work for today’s youth,” he said. “They experience and think differently about theater today than they did 10 years ago.”

Marshall’s efforts are meeting with great success. The most recent Caryl Crane production, “Disney’s Little Mermaid,” boasted the highest attendance of any production in college history. Other recent productions included “Hairspray,” “Children’s Letters to God” and “Peter and Wendy.”  Next up is “Annie,” which will run from Feb. 1-10.

“We want to be a strong part of this community, and selecting productions that have popular appeal is a necessity,” Marshall said.

Although the two theater programs at BGSU Firelands have traditionally operated independently of each other, the leaders of both programs are now searching for opportunities to collaborate.

“Many of the college students in the theater arts program were former members of the Caryl Crane Youth Theatre,” said Wingerter, “Finding ways they can continue to work with that program and mentor the younger actors seemed like an obvious fit.”

This year, Firelands College Theatre and Caryl Crane will collaborate together to facilitate and produce the Ronald M. Ruble New Play Festival, which was formerly solely a CCYT effort. The festival invites people from around the world to submit their independently written plays for judging. A winning play is selected and then has the opportunity to be produced by members of both the theater programs during the following year.

“The play festival is an amazing opportunity for playwrights in the community, and worldwide, to gain exposure, for BGSU Firelands theater students to produce new material, and for the audience members who attend to witness a true college/community partnership,” said Marshall.