Although Hiram College’s liberal arts ideology has only recently been given the name “Hiram Connect,” the concepts behind it – self-discovery, hands-on learning and reflection – have long been part of the Hiram College tradition. Read about one graduating senior’s experience with the philosophy.
The three-quarter thrust stage in Hiram College’s Renner Theater has a minimal set with five black chairs and five black wooden boxes. In the background, a single plain white screen with a projection slide reads “welcome” in German. The five actors, or “demonstrators” as they’re called in the program, are dressed head-to-toe in black.
The scene is part of a research project that has been brought to life on the stage – a culmination of nearly four years of learning at Hiram College. Theatre arts major August Scarpelli ’16, of Sheffield Lake, Ohio, is the writer/director of the production, and the scene is part of “Attacking Brecht,” his senior capstone project.
“The project is an hour-long lecture/demonstration on the German playwright, poet and theatre director, Bertolt Brecht,” Scarpelli says. “Brecht was considerably one of, if not the most, prominent forces in 20th century theatre. The demonstration is intended to intellectually attack his theories and practices using the tools of the plays he wrote and the theatre itself.”
While the demonstration, which ran two evenings during the middle of the fall 2015 semester and was open to the public, was an important part of the project, for Scarpelli, “the real work of the project started once the presentation was over.”
Before turning in his capstone at the end of the fall 2015 semester, Scarpelli completed a director’s book that includes, among other items, his research, daily journal entries, the demonstration script and a reflective paper examining not only this particular experience, but other theatrical experiences he’s had up until this point.
“Something I very much value about my Hiram education, especially in the theatre department, is the continued emphasis on reflection and the importance of what I am learning from the experience – and how that is so much more important than the presentation of the material,” says Scarpelli.
He is grateful that the theatre arts department allowed him the flexibility to put together a capstone project that is uniquely “August.”
“I honestly think my senior capstone at any other school would have had much less to do with me and the expression of my ideas. Having the control and intimate engagement with the department during the process was a very special part of the experience,” he says. “I am confident that without my Hiram education I would not have the intellectual capacity to weave such a project together.”
As he wraps up his senior year, he is also preparing to co-direct a play titled “The Horatio Project: Hamlet the Miniseries,” an adaption of the Shakespearean play, alongside his advisor, Rick Hyde, M.F.A., professor of theatre arts.
“Some students you don’t have to advise very much, you just have to aim occasionally,” says Hyde, professor of theatre arts and the Howard S. Bissell Chair in the Liberal Arts. “August is an extremely curious young man. He loves to know things and he loves to find things out. He will spend his whole life learning.”
In addition to spending a lot of time with Professor Hyde in the theatre, Scarpelli traveled with him to England for a study abroad course.
“August is the kind of guy that when you’re walking down the street in Stratford-Upon-Avon and you turn to him and say, ‘Shakespeare walked down this street,’ his eyes get big – and that kind of thing is what has him editing and working on ‘The Horatio Project,’” he explains.
As if co-directing a play and writing, directing and presenting a capstone project wasn’t enough, Scarpelli, who between serving as the president of the Theatre Guild, being a member of Phi Gamma Epsilon fraternity, disc-jockeying at the College’s radio station and performing at a regional theatre, still manages to find the time to mentor other students.
“He consistently challenges himself and is always prepared to discuss ideas,” says Betsy Bauman, M.F.A., associate professor of theatre arts and department chair. “As a performer, he has great discipline. He sets examples of how to be a responsible, disciplined actor. He has really matured to the point where I believe he mentors newer students admirably.”
As for life after graduation, Scarpelli hopes to own and run a theatre one day. With a promising future ahead of him and a robust college career coming to completion, he credits Hiram for much of his success.
“Whatever path I end up following in May, I feel incredibly confident in my ability to interact with all kinds of artists that work in the theatre and work with them well, while at the same time cultivating and wielding whatever artistic skills I have in a way that I find important.”