The World’s A Stage
Making the most of her Cater Society opportunities, Rachel Dilliplane ’15 has studied theater from Montreal to South Africa to Italy to Scotland, along the way refining her focus for her future in drama.
Last summer, artists of all stripes converged upon Edinburgh for what is billed as the largest fringe festival on Earth. Over 25 days, in 299 venues throughout Scotland’s capital city, millions of visitors attended 49,497 performances of 3,193 shows in every theater form imaginable, from cabaret to dance to opera to puppeteering. And somewhere in the middle of it all was Rachel Dilliplane ’15, a Washington College double major in drama and behavioral neuroscience, who traveled to Scotland on a Cater Society grant to pursue her project studying post-colonial theater styles.
Scotland was part two of Dilliplane’s project; the first was to attend the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, South Africa, where she had earlier spent a semester abroad studying at Rhodes University. Begun in 1974, this festival is billed as the largest annual celebration of the arts on the African continent.
“I saw a performance of MacBeth that was totally in Afrikaans, I saw theater in Zulu,” Dilliplane says. “I saw a really famous production called “Ubu and the Truth Commission” by Jane Taylor in which Handspring puppets [from the world famous, South African-based Handspring Puppet Company] are used. “Ubu” is about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the post-apartheid equivalent of the Nuremberg trials following WWII. As you can imagine it was a very controversial and emotionally trying event in South African history. I saw the show in South Africa and attended a talk back in which I heard native South Africans share their thoughts on the production. I even met the author, Jane Taylor and heard her speak about making this piece at a very controversial time. It was really incredible.”
Witnessing so much diverse theater in a country that is still entangled in its emergence from the colonial-based apartheid regime provided not only a powerful experience, but also a rich foundation for her research, she says.
“My project was about post-colonial theater styles in two geographically separate places that have similar history of colonization and oppression by a European power. I actually found a lot of cool research for this, and was surprised at how many post-colonial elements manifested themselves in both places.”
Dilliplane, who in August will begin a year-long internship with the Virginia Repertory Theatre’s Children’s Theatre, has made the most of her opportunities as a Cater Fellow to enhance classroom learning with international experiences that broaden her knowledge of theater. With her first Cater grant, she traveled to Montreal to a bilingual fringe festival.
“It was the first time traveling all by myself and I realized how much I loved it,” she says. “I watched plays in French, English, and in both. There were plays in French that I had no idea what was going on, but there were others where I understood everything. And I attributed that to good theatrical storytelling and connection with the audience, which was mostly what my project was about.”
Her next Cater journey took her to Scotland and South Africa. During her trip to Scotland, Dilliplane was working on her directing thesis for her drama major. She’d chosen a play called “Middletown,” by playwright Will Eno, and she was ecstatic to learn that another of his plays was being staged at the Scotland festival. “I went to see it on its opening night, just sat in the front row and fell in love with it,” she says. “That was such a cool combination of all of my different experiences, and I wouldn’t have had that opportunity otherwise.”
And then, this past winter break, she went to Tuscany for two weeks and studied the theatrical art of commedia dell’arte. Begun in Italy in the 16th century, this art form uses masked “types”—characters that have more or less been handed down through the centuries—and relies on improvisation and short sketches. As part of the workshop, she created her own mask from its start in clay to its finish in fine leather and paint.
Dilliplane says the work she has done as a Cater Fellow has helped her refine her focus about her future in drama, and she credits Austin Lobo, the Society’s curator, and its members for supporting this kind of global exploration.
“It’s definitely pushing me in a direction to what kind of theater I want to be creating, what I don’t see as much out there and what I want to be putting out there,” she says. “The unforgettable opportunities that Cater has afforded me are a completely unique aspect of my college experience, and the education I received from these trips is unparalleled by anything I could learn from a lecture or a textbook.”