Young professor adds drama to life at the Naval Academy

Theater troupe leader tackles her second show

October 09, 2003|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When Christy Stanlake was introduced to the Naval Academy as a graduate student, she never expected the military school to have a theater program, let alone to teach its midshipmen the essentials of drama in a few years time.

But in her second year as English department faculty member leading the academy's Masqueraders acting troupe, Stanlake hopes to build on last year's successes with a performance of John Guare's Chaucer in Rome.

Stanlake, 31, got her introduction to the military school while performing Harold Pinter's two-person play Ashes to Ashes at a conference in London, where she ran into Anne Marie Drew.

"She was at the English department and directing the theater program at the Naval Academy," Stanlake said. "I thought she meant something like navel oranges in California, never thinking that a military school would have a theater program and that people directing it were fans of Pinter."

A year and a half later, finishing her doctorate in theater theory, literature and criticism at Ohio State University, she noticed a job opening at the Naval Academy and, because of her talk with Drew, applied for the job.

Arriving last year to teach freshman composition and dramatic literature, Stanlake found that "there is more critical thinking than I anticipated, and it is encouraged. Students who are going to be officers are expected to know much about the world to help them better deal with making decisions."

Last year's production of George Bernard Shaw's St. Joan was Stanlake's first drama choice at the largely male Naval Academy. Contributing to Joan's success was Stanlake's clever promotion of the event.

For St. Joan, Stanlake found an array of acting and technical talent that included Brandr Beekman-Ellner, who volunteered to help with public relations last fall. Artist Karen Rhine created the artwork for advertising St. Joan and handled other negotiations.

Stanlake is pleased that Beekman-Ellner is doing public relations for this season's Chaucer in Rome, describing Beekman-Ellner as "fantastically self-motivated, balancing publicity with sailing and getting his flight license. He is an incredible multitasker who came back this year."

Another returning student is Jeremy Cox, who was stage manager for St. Joan and will serve in that capacity and as assistant director for Chaucer in Rome.

Stanlake said she is gratified by the large number of her returning theater troupers.

"Both in St. Joan and in the upcoming November production of Chaucer in Rome a great deal of multimedia is used, tying in with the concept of `technical Navy' that is contiguous to contemporary productions where the stage becomes a place for art and critical thinking to come together with technical expertise."

In Chaucer in Rome, Stanlake has selected a thought-provoking contemporary satire filled with an assortment of modern-day pilgrims visiting Rome. The Masqueraders' Chaucer production will be presented at Mahan Hall on Nov. 13, 14, 20 and 21.

Meanwhile, Stanlake will pursue her interest in Native American culture by teaching a course in Native American art and literature as a special topic at the academy.

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