Not everyone wants to be involved in theater. The scene is definitely not for everyone. But what if it could be? A college theater program often connotes actors, elaborate costumes and extravagant sets but there are many people putting the production together behind the scenes.
And not all of them are theatre arts majors.
As a senior at Rowan University, John Angeloni has explored many passions in his 22 years. At one point, he wanted to be an actor but decided to be a history major instead. However, after talking to his theatre history professor, Dr. Elizabeth Hostetter, he ended up discovering a way to combine his passions for both theater and history. Now, he volunteers his time as the dramaturge for the Department of Theatre and Dance’s production of “Guys and Dolls.”
I have been roommates with Angeloni in Rowan’s townhouses since September 2012. We never saw much of each other as roommates but we did manage to have a long conversation about his passion for history and theater towards the end of last semester. I was fascinated with his story but I never had the chance to really dig into his mind until Thursday, Feb. 28 when I had the chance to ask him some questions for this blog.
Q: Tell me about a time when you wanted to be an actor.
A: I’ve been acting non-professionally and semi-professionally for about 12 maybe 13 years of my life. It was always something I flirted with. I knew I could never make a living doing it. I just wasn’t that talented but it was always something I liked doing and there was a camaraderie with guys and girls in a theater that I hadn’t found anywhere else. It was something I liked to do that was fun. I find history enjoyable. It was just something else I found enjoyable. It was also something I was somewhat good at.
Q: Do you think this job at “Guys and Dolls” combined your love for acting and history?
A: It absolutely does. I was very happy. The first time I figured out the position of a dramturge even existed was when I talked to my theatre history professor [Dr. Elizabeth Hostetter] and I said “They offer theatre history here at Rowan. There’s got to be a career that encompasses that.” And she said “Well funny you ask.” And she went on to tell me that there’s this position in theater where they do period pieces called a dramaturge – which is basically just [someone who is used] to make sure that they get everything right from a historical standpoint. They call in someone who has knowledge of that time period. Usually, directors do it by themselves so they don’t have to pay anyone. I got very lucky when I went to the director of “Guys and Dolls,” Professor [Rebecca] Rich. I was very lucky in the fact that she used dramaturges before but I was incredibly lucky in that I just wanted to do it for the experience. I didn’t ask for any money. She seemed a little taken aback when I first said that. I haven’t seen my name in a theater playbook for awhile and I was starting to miss that. All I wanted was a credit in the playbook and that was the end of it. During winter break, she sent me a list of everything she needed. For “Guys and Dolls,” we needed someone to examine the criminal underworld of New York City in the late 40s to the early 50s. She asked me to tell her all I can about that and gave me about two and half weeks to do it. I poured through all of the research books that I had and found a couple more. I answered all of the questions she had.
Q: Was having a student dramaturge unique for “Guys and Dolls?”
A: I’m guessing Rebecca Rich would have done it herself. I’d like to think she liked my enthusiasm about doing it [laughs]. But also there’s the fact that she has enough to worry about as it is – less weight off her shoulders to worry about. I’ve been involved with theater productions before and I know the director doesn’t have it easy. Basically, it was a bigger weight off her shoulders and I was happy to help out in any way that I could.
Q: How did you take the load off the director’s shoulders?
A: That was personally something I wanted to help do. I know that directors don’t always have it easy. I said “let me do something that I’m going to enjoy doing and let me help Rebecca Rich and these guys in any way that I can. I’m thinking the less Rebecca has to worry about, the more she can concentrate on the important things.
Q: What would you say is the most rewarding aspect of doing all of this?
A: The most rewarding aspect of doing all of this is that I get to work with a very nice group of people and a very large cast who were all incredibly receptive. We had our first read-through a few weeks ago and it was really nice. Being the only non-theatre major there, I thought I’d be looked down upon a little bit like: “what’s that history major doing here.” But I was very impressed. They were all a great group of people. So beyond the fact that I’m working with a great group of people and a very receptive group of people, [I have also managed to] combine two things that I’m very passionate about – acting and theatre on one side and history on the other side. I’m really happy that I can combine those two fields and find some way to do it. Would I think of doing this as a career? Maybe. There’s more money for me if I go into academics with history. Let’s be honest. But that can be said of any history major. But is it nice to find a connection between two fields that I love very much and loved for a long time? Yeah. So that was probably the most rewarding.
Q: How does the dramaturgy process work?
A: The dramaturgy process was a lot more simple than I thought. I went to the director and said “if you could use my help, I would love to offer it to you.” And she said “absolutely. I’ll email you during winter break.” The dramaturgy process is all up to the director’s discretion. Basically what the director asks for, you do your best to provide. For example, she asked me certain questions. She asked me to describe what life was like on Broadway in the late 40s and early 50s. [She also asked me to] describe what an illegal craps game would be like in the 40s and 50s in New York. What she wanted was some insight into the time period. And she said “just provide me with as much pertinent information as you can. Give me some sources and email me back by this date.” I spent two weeks working. I found a lot of very good source material on it. I typed up what I could. I sent it to her and if she wanted more information on something, she’d ask me. And also, she asked me to send her information that i think might be interesting or that I think might be pertinent and I did that as well. She put a packet together with all of my information in it. It was really nice to see all of my information go into a packet. It was really uplifting for me to see that go out to the cast. And that was the extent of it. And unless she calls on me again which is absolutely possible, I have nothing else to do.
Q: Have you seen any of the set designs yet?
A: I’ve seen both model mock-ups and I’ve also seen sketch drawings. Just from the sketches themselves, it’s absolutely amazing. At one point during the production, they go in the sewers to hold a crap game. And I saw the sketch mock-up. It’s the size of the entire stage. It’s got piping everywhere. It’s got a little manhole at the top. It’s amazing. It’s not like a college production I have seen before. Outside of a regular theater, I don’t think I have ever seen that kind of attention to detail before.
Q: What are you most excited about for the show?
A: I’m most excited to see how the cast takes the work that I have done and I’m excited to see how they bring it into their performances. And as I mentioned before, it’ll also be very nice to see my name in a playbook again because I havent seen that in awhile. I honestly cannot wait for opening night, It’ll be very interesting to watch them do this.
Q: You’re graduating this semester. What’s next for you?
A: I’m going to continue to work at my studio over the summer, Red Dwarf Studios. And then I’m going to come back [to Rowan] for the Master’s program. After the Master’s program is done, however long that takes, I’m going to move on, hopefully to start my doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania which has been that light at the end of the tunnel for me. After I get my doctorate, the sky is the limit. The ultimate goal is to be – I still can’t believe I’m saying this – Dr. Angeloni.
Q: Would you ever consider writing a book about dramaturgy or different time periods.
A: That’s an abslute possibility. I might if it ever crosses my mind. It just might work. There have been a few in the past and they are all incredibly good. It’s absolutely possible if I ever decide to do this again.
You can see the future Dr. Angeloni’s work when the show opens on April 19.