Jonathan Beller was never a fan of typecasting, and he certainly wouldn’t be happy limiting himself to just one kind of role in the theater world he loves so much.
“I’m trained as a theater maker, so I’m trained as an actor, director and playwright,” said Beller, head of the new drama concentration within the liberal arts degree program at Schenectady County Community College. “I kind of fell into acting when I was young, but I stayed with it and now I have a history and a skill set. But I haven’t mastered it. Those are all skill sets I’m still working on.”
Beller, who arrived in Schenectady in the fall of 2013, wrote and is directing a new SCCC Student Theatre Ensemble production called “Alienation.” A cast of 11 — eight of them SCCC students — will put on six shows over the next two weekends at the John Sayles Black Box Theatre at Schenectady High School.
WHAT: A performance of an original play by the SCCC Student Theatre Ensemble
WHERE: John Sayles Black Box Theatre, Schenectady High School, 1445 The Plaza, Schenectady
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 8 p.m. May 5-7
HOW MUCH: $8 for adults, $5 for students
MORE INFO: 381-1395
“I wrote the play but certainly not in a vacuum,” said Beller, a Phoenix native who attended Northern Arizona University and then got his master of fine arts degree in directing from Arizona State University.
“I had an idea about a year ago to create this piece using old science fiction movies and television shows, like the ‘Twilight Zone’ and ‘Lost in Space.’
“I ended up taking actual accounts of alien abduction stories, put them all together and mashed them in a grinder, churned it, and what we came up with was ‘Alienation.’ It’s all about these eccentric characters who are looking everywhere but inside themselves for proof that life really does exist.”
Along with his actor/director/playwright label, Beller is also a teacher and producer. He ran his own theater troupe in Flagstaff, Arizona, before returning to school to get his MFA. He moved to New York in 2008 to train and work with Kari Margolis, who runs the Margolis Brown Adaptors Company in Highland in the Catskills.
“She introduced an acting method that really resonated with me on a number of levels,” said Beller, who is following in the footsteps of Grace Burian and Sandra Boynton as a director of SCCC theater productions.
“So I moved to New York to train with her and become part of her company, and then in 2013 I saw a job opening at SCCC. They had deactivated the theater program and they were calling for applicants interested in revamping it. I didn’t want to be too far from Highland, so this was a great opportunity for me to create new work at the college and still be able to train with Kari.”
The Margolis Method is now part of any class Beller teaches at SCCC.
“It’s all based on natural physics, and it can be applied to anything,” he said. “Everything I do here is based around the Margolis Method, and I would hold us up to any school in the region. Kari is the reason I moved and I’ve really locked into her teaching and training methods.”
The Adaptors Company, under Margolis’s direction, creates original pieces, and that’s the kind of experience students should learn at SCCC said Beller.
“Her theater ensemble is all original work and cutting edge, and I adhere to that notion that colleges should be a place where we’re testing the boundaries of art, science, technology and so forth,” he said. “Art sometimes tends not to be viewed that way, but I think, just like science and technology, that we can make similar advancement in the arts and offer research that expands our perspective.”
“Alienation” is a collaboration between SCCC and the Sayles School of Fine Arts at Schenectady High School. Denise Massman, chair of the Creative Arts Department at Siena College, is also part of the project as is Siena professor Brian Massman and local lighting designer Bill Fritz.
“It’s very much an ensemble piece for the actors, and our actors are playing several characters,” said Beller.
“We have Schenectady High students who are helping us build the set and working in various crew capacities, and we have some other very wonderful people who are contributing. We’re approaching the play in a non-traditional kind of way, but we think we have something the audience will enjoy. We’re not placing it in any particular time period, but people will probably feel a late 1950s or ’60s vibe.”
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected]