Innovation of the Year
The Sixth Act
What play can give business students insight into a shady business deal? David Mamet’s American Buffalo fits the bill. What drama would delight physics students by discussing string theory? Einstein’s Dreams, of course.
Odd as it may seem to mesh theater and other disciplines, it’s entirely feasible when MCC’s interdisciplinary group, The Sixth Act, winner of 2009’s Innovation of the Year Award, takes the stage.
“This is live art,” said Maria Brandt, assistant professor of English and manager of the five-year-old organization which earned this year’s Innovation of the Year award. “It can touch any profession.”
With a mission to “broaden and deepen an interdisciplinary interest in drama” and cultivate an appreciation of theater across the MCC campus, The Sixth Act collaborates with other academic departments to develop a full season of events every academic year.
The Sixth Act subsists on a shoestring budget that includes several hundred dollars from the Creative Arts Committee, The Sixth Act’s sponsor; a little more from other areas; and a lot of donated time and resources from MCC’s Theater Department. Its season usually consists of one Academic Workshop—a performance of a play that addresses the subject matter of another discipline, like African-American studies or history; one playgoing event, where members of the MCC community attend a play at a Rochester community theater and take part in a roundtable discussion with the cast and crew; a student playwriting competition; and Drama on Demand event, where members of the Theater Department perform a scene or a short play in a class.
According to Brandt, who is one of the group’s founders, “After the performance, the actors talk about it with the class. The discussion can end up being a pretty in-depth exchange, and that helps the students better understand what’s going on. After a Drama on Demand performance, they say, ‘Now I see it!’ ”
The Sixth Act sometimes includes other events in their schedule. The 2009–10 season will feature If All of MCC Read the Same Play and a special event that revolves around a play by Pablo Neruda. Nevertheless, Brandt says the organization has gotten into a good groove, allowing the members to plan and execute an optimal number of events without spreading themselves too thin.
“We’re where we should be right now, and we’re interested in sustaining it,” Brandt said. “We’d rather do fewer high-quality projects better, instead of doing a greater number poorly.”
While Brandt manages The Sixth Act, it’s the board members who are the lifeblood of the organization, she said. Volunteers from all over campus donate their time for a year or two and although they are only required to work on one event per season, they often donate their time to several. Faculty members receive professional development credit and students benefit from a unique and rich experience.
This year’s board members sharing the Innovation Award honor include English/Philosophy faculty members: Gail Bouk, assistant professor; Jeffrey Jones, adjunct assistant professor; Marjory Marshall, adjunct instructor; Caren Pita, adjunct assistant professor; and Ann Tippett, associate professor; Visual and Performing Arts faculty members Heather Fox, adjunct instructor; and Jim Simmonds; assistant professor; Paul D’Alessandris, physics professor; and MCC student Robert Kashmer.