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The Cotton Patch Gospel a musical by Tom Key & Russell Treyz with music and lyrics by Harry Chapin

Dartmouth College

May 27, 28, & 29, 2016

Advisor: Dr. Irma Mayorga

The Cotton Patch Gospel takes the story of the Gospel and sets it in the bluegrass cadences of rural Georgia. Robert Leverett's Honors Thesis project sought to create a challenging acting opportunity for Leverett. But also, Robert sought to challenge the tradition of musical theater form by thinking about the performance event as an opportutnity to create community in the spectators' theater-going experience. To this end, Leverett's dramaturgical ideas deconstructed the audience's spectatorial experience in total.

Students who have completed at least five major courses and who have an average in the major of 3.4 or higher (and a College average of 3.0 or higher) are eligible to apply for the honors program. An honors project normally extends through two terms and receives two major credits.

In the first term of his project, Leverett dramaturgically reformatted the musical from a one-person storytelling narrative with band to create a vehicle for a six person ensemble with band. Here, Robert strove to create a vehicle that eliminated lead roles and, instead, focused on ensemble storytelling. As well, Robert broke apart the fourth wall in order to stage the musical in a deeply immersive format whereby actors consistently invaded and configured themselves within the audience's seating areas. Indeed, the audience was also wildly incorporated into the production to serve in various moments and sketches to further enfold an immersive staging. As well, Leverett reaped lessons from the theater-going experiences of his Southern, community theater roots - where hospitality is key - and incorporated a meal for the audience to partake of at intermission. 

Pedagogy on this project included guiding the student through the Honors Thesis application process and developing a clear plan of action for a project that included two areas of expertise: dramaturgy and acting. Dramaturgical analysis of the script included helping the student convert the script to an ensemble piece for six actors and four musicians. Advisement also closely counseled inventive and bold, non-naturalistic staging choices and a broad, highly physical acting style. Mentorship for this project also included collaboration on conceiving and shaping a highly stylized and non-traditional scenic design in a black box theater space. 

Mentorship and collaboration with the student included weekly one-on-one consultation meetings in the first term of the project for script development and extensive planning for this experimental production. As well, mentorship included helping Leverett write grants to secure funding from several campus sources to support his innovative ideas. In the project's second term advisement carried on into rehearsals, producing elements, and all technical rehearsals.


Press for Robert Leverett's Honors Thesis

Robert Leverett (front, right) in The Cotton Patch Gospel. Photo by Rob Strong.

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