When senior theatre major Diego Rubey ’19 created his original play for Denison’s first-ever Fringe Festival last spring—JAMIE VER.M1LLION, a fast-paced musical journey through time and space—he had a professional mentor to champion his creativity: Matt Slaybaugh, executive director of Available Light Theatre, based in Columbus.
“Matt gave us advice as to how to go about producing the show because none of us had ever put on a full-length show before,” says Rubey, whose play was performed in The Bandersnatch.
Since 2014, Available Light company members, including Jordan Fehr ’07 and Elena Perantoni ’05, have been mentoring students as Denison’s theatre company-in-residence. It’s a rare opportunity for students interested in playwriting, lighting, set design, acting, and more to learn from professionals in what Department of Theatre Chair Mark Evans Bryan calls “the most interesting theatre company in Columbus, with a national reputation for doing genuinely challenging work.”
At Denison, company members offer workshops that immerse students in the finer points of ensemble theatre, guide students as they devise their own original works, and bring Available Light’s original theatrical performances to the campus stages. Another benefit of partnering with professional artists? “We can help students who are wondering how to make a life in the theatre,” says Eleni Papaleonardos, Available Light artistic director and visiting professor at Denison.
From the decision to join an actors’ union to determining what type of theatre they want to make, the professional considerations—how to turn an artistic passion into a vocation—are an important component of the college’s focus on life after Denison. “The partnership with Available Light is part of the college’s longstanding commitment to creating situations for students to explore their work broadly in the world,” says Bryan. “We’re always interested in new ways we can engage with artists and makers—people who are experts in their field beyond the college.”
The partnership is making a difference. Current students and recent graduates have credited Available Light with helping inspire them to pursue graduate studies in theatre, create their own original works, delve deeper into acting theories like viewpoint composition, and more. “Students have been transformed by their experiences, and we’re looking to grow that influence,” says Bryan.