CoLab teaches through criticism
CORRECTION APPENDEDAround this time last year, Kenny Fuentes '08 was confronting a fear common to many recent college graduates: "I seriously thought that I would never work again," he recalls. Fuentes, who majored in History, knew that he wanted to pursue a career in theater but had never so much as auditioned for a professional theater role.
Since graduating, not only has Fuentes managed to land acting gigs and keep a day job, but he also serves as an artistic director of the CoLab Theatre Company, a group he co-founded with Erika Geller '09. The company seeks to provide training and networking resources for Boston-area actors.
CoLab has yet to stage a play, although Fuentes says a production of an original work is planned for the end of the summer. Instead, Fuentes, Geller and a third collaborator, Mary-Liz Murray, have focused on bringing together local actors in a series of free workshops focused on developing audition skills.
"We don't direct the actors," Fuentes notes of the workshops, which routinely bring in as many as 15 actors at a time for a simulated open audition. "We give them observations, we give them ideas-the theory being that an audition piece is such a personal expression that the actor needs to be their own director."
This philosophy of constructive criticism reflects the niche that CoLab's founders hope it will fill in the Boston theater scene. "I think people are too polite here," Fuentes explains, describing his experiences at area auditions. "There's a close, tight-knit community, which I'm in love with, which you're not going to find in some of the larger theater cities. But the downside of that is that people are scared of rubbing each other the wrong way, stepping on toes." Fuentes hopes that by allowing actors to discuss their work with other actors, CoLab's workshops will yield a higher quality of performance.
The collaborative process of New York's Group Theatre served as a source of inspiration for Fuentes, Geller and Murray as they formulated their company's unique mission. The collective, founded in the 1930s, included many legends of American theater, such as Elia Kazan, Stella Adler and Clifford Odets. "These were people who worked very closely together and respected each other a great deal but who were not afraid to bicker and not afraid to criticize," Fuentes explains.
The company is founded on a similarly supportive yet honest atmosphere among its directors. Fuentes and Geller established a strong rapport while serving as co-coordinators of Brandeis Ensemble Theater and later took on Murray after it became clear she was dedicated to the same collaborative vision.
Although they share the title of "artistic director," CoLab's staffers also serve as de facto marketing directors for the budding company. Fuentes, Geller and Murray take turns supplying near-daily updates on the company's blog at colabtheatre.blogspot.com, which Fuentes cites as an important tool in spreading news of the company's projects. He praises the hard work that has been put in so far, saying, "It's one thing to pay people to do something. It's another thing to have them believe in the mission so much that they're willing to give away their very scarce time and energy."
CoLab's cooperative approach has attracted interest in the company as its reputation spreads. "I think the most exciting thing in the world is when somebody comes to our workshops who we have no connection to," Fuentes says. "We've had people show up on faith alone." He hopes to convert this small following into a money base for the company, speaking of plans for a letter-writing campaign, a cabaret fundraiser and possibly levying a fee for certain workshops.
As CoLab prepares for its second year on the Boston theater scene, Fuentes says it has already surpassed many of his goals and expectations. He says, "I'm a big believer that the spoils often go to who shows up. If you have the drive and the confidence and the wherewithal to just try, that's half the battle."
Correction: The article originally gave the incorrect class year of an alumnus. Kenny Fuentes graduated in 2008, not 2009.