Roanoke College graduate and professional actor returns to campus to teach and perform with New York theater company
The stage sets on a dock in Amsterdam as five American actors and actresses use body motions to portray immigrants coming to America by way of Ellis Island in the early 20th century.
Through actions, these actors and actresses take the audience onto a boat that sails across the river to an empty warehouse. Traveling to different locations exposes the audience to the chill of gritty unfamiliarity that parallels the immigration experience.
This unorthodox play, "The Promise Land," is an example of one of the well-known pieces of The New Yorkers, a theater company that performed Oct. 5 in Roanoke College's Olin Theater.
The group's Roanoke appearance was a homecoming of sorts for Cory Lawson, a 2008 graduate who is a member of the theater company.
The five actors and actresses that make up The New Yorkers met when they were students at The New School, a university in New York City. Each earned a master's degree in fine arts at the school.
They got their start with the help of Orkater, an established Dutch contemporary music theater company. Several actors of Orkater were visiting instructors at The New School.
In 2010, the Orkater actors asked the New York group to join them in a performance in Amsterdam. That was where the newly-formed theater company got its name.
"When we went to Amsterdam the first time, they [the members of Orkater and Dutch audiences] didn't know what to call us, so they just kept calling us 'the New Yorkers,' and it stuck" Lawson said.
Lawson, who was a theater major at Roanoke, always wanted to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. After graduating from Roanoke, he studied theater at The New School before he began working as a professional actor.
In addition to performing with The New Yorkers, Lawson launched his own theater company, Ready, Set, Go Theatre. He is one of three co-directors who oversees the work of more than 25 actors and writers from the company's Brooklyn, N.Y.,-based office.
The company's focus is creating Shakespeare webisodes, which are a series of segmented Internet dramas. Its first of 12 webisodes on Shakespeare's "Othello" was released on Sept. 14.
The company puts a creative spin on these webisodes. They maintain Shakespeare's original text, but the play is set in contemporary New York City.
"Creating your own work from the ground up is the fun part about being an artist," Lawson said.
His company's ultimate goal is for high schools and colleges to incorporate the webisodes in their classrooms.
"Ideally, we would like to provide personalized webisodes for each university by filming on their campus and getting their students involved as minor characters," Lawson said.
One of the reasons Lawson said he would like to work with colleges is because he had a great experience at Roanoke.
After graduation, he maintained relationships with some of his professors, especially George Arthur and Dr. Lisa Warren. Arthur and Warren encouraged him to apply for Roanoke's Copenhaver Scholar-in-Residence Grant, which provided the funds for The New Yorkers' visit to Roanoke this month.
The New Yorkers performed one of their signature physical theater pieces at Roanoke. The group also visited several theater classes at the College to teach students about acting.
Additionally, The New Yorkers are helping several Roanoke students create a 15-minute show, which will serve as the opening act for the group's Friday performance.
Lawson said he wants to introduce Roanoke students to the influential and complex nature of physical theater.
"Most younger actors depend on dialogue during their performances, but it is completely different when you have to rely totally on your physical movements," said Lawson.
--Posted Oct. 3, 2012