Rewritten and restaged as the outcome of an intense, semester-long creative blender known as devised theater, the play will embody the multicultural, yet universal, experiences of young people dealing with violence, abuse and the temptation to self-medicate their problems away with drugs -- to become, as one reading of the title implies, stoners.
In one of the many unique elements of a theatrical project that has had cross-campus support from SUNY Oswego administration, faculty and students, a split-level stage will simultaneously display a group of six disconnected teenagers living in New York City, and the dark lair of a drug distribution network that tries to ensnare the characters throughout the play.
Writer and director Aditya Sengupta, who studied at SUNY Oswego in summer 2013 with co-director and stage designer Sohini Chattopadhyay, premiered "The Stone Age" in India. Both visiting scholars graduated from St. Xavier's College in Kolkata, an academic exchange partner of Oswego's, and went on to earn master's degrees last year at Cambridge University in England. The play originally explored the harsh realities facing Indian youths emigrating to the Big Apple.
"We brought 'The Stone Age' all over India, and in 2014 it was shown in front of up to 1,200 people at a time," Sengupta said. "Now that we are here, we want to adapt this play, keeping in mind a new American audience."
Geraldine Forbes, retired SUNY Oswego distinguished teaching professor of history and a scholar of and frequent traveler to India, saw the play and brought it to the attention of Oswego Provost Lorrie Clemo and International Education and Programs Director Joshua McKeown.
"We have been deliberately building deeper and broader relationships in India," McKeown said. "Thanks to the visit here of two graduates of St. Xavier's College, which is our first student exchange partner institution in India, their work presented a unique opportunity to engage creatively. With the strong support of the provost and the theater department, and from our incredibly motivated and talented students, we have been able to do this."
Theater faculty member Jonel Langenfeld, who had Chattopadhyay in a storytelling class during the scholars' earlier visit as undergraduates, has led the project on the Oswego side. Langenfeld ultimately integrated the project fully into a class this semester, "Devised Theater: The India Project." The college has tied in the effort with optional travel to India, with a dozen students and three faculty members set to make a January trip to Kolkata, where the students will perform a couple of scenes from "The Stone Age" with a theater group there.
"With devised theater, everyone in class is involved in developing the show, and you work on all aspects -- the writing, the performance, the scenic elements, the costumes, the makeup, the props, the music," Langenfeld said. "Normally, that can take up to two years to do. But we're doing it in a semester."
Langenfeld added, "I'm just really proud of what these young people have accomplished ... We feel that our purpose in theater is not only to entertain, but to inform, to inspire and to challenge."
As the characters in "The Stone Age" struggle with the dark forces tempting them to use addictive substances, they engage in the familiar struggle of self-identity that anyone, without regard to culture, might confront at one time or another. "I'm always reminding the students that if you want things in the world to change, you have to have the strength and the courage to stand up for it," Langenfeld said. "You are your own power. Don't let anyone take it away from you."
Forbes, who now lives in India for part of each year, said multicultural understanding is difficult to achieve. It needs an immersive experience, and that is the value of projects such as "The Stone Age" adaptation. "One of my interests in taking students to India over the years has been to break away from the tourist mode and get them started engaging with the people of India," Forbes said. "You see that these are real people, not 'the other.'"
Tickets for "The Stone Age" are $10 ($5 for SUNY Oswego students), available at all SUNY Oswego box offices, online at tickets.oswego.edu or by calling 315-312-2141. Parking is included in the price of a ticket, and is available in the employee and commuter lots in front of and adjacent to Culkin Hall.
Playing the youths in "The Stone Age" are SUNY Oswego students Alyssa Scruton (Lily), Berme Jordaan (Olivia), Khari Constantine (Aiden), Maegan Kenny (Emily), Nicholas Cocks (Jonny) and Tyler Chase (Luke). Ensemble cast members include Brian Doolittle, Gabor Hardy, Michael Calobrisi, Sydney Lattenhauer, Kelci Schlierf, Remington, Cadi Hannold, Royshanna Young and Katherine Guarnier.
Crewing with Sengupta, Chattopadhyay and Langenfeld are faculty and staff members Ola Kraszpulska (scenic/lighting design coordinator), Greg Brewster (sound engineer), Paul Leary of the music department (music design/musician), Cole Sostak (stage management mentor), Judith McCabe (costumer shop manager), Jessica Culligan (prop shop manager), Sean Culligan (technical director) and Jacob Dodd of the English and creative writing department (documentary film mentor).
Among the many student crewmembers are Devin Croad (light board operator), Autumn Ortega (spot operator), Stacy Baum (musician/props crew), Ervin Bautista (choreographer), Kelsey Clark (stage manager), Corrine Bottelsen (assistant stage manager/costume facilitator-designer) and Leah Iannone (makeup/hair designer).