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Powerhouse Apprentice’s Summer Dream

Ever since she was a child, Aran Savory ’16 has dreamed of becoming a professional actress. She performed in numerous productions growing up in Columbia, SC, and she applied to Vassar in large part because of its outstanding drama program.

Savory says she knows the odds are long, but after a year at Vassar and a summer in the Powerhouse Theater Apprentice Company, her hopes of achieving success have been re-kindled.

Savory performs as part of the apprentice cast of Agamemnon.

“There have been times when I’ve seen acting (as a career) as a pipe dream, but since coming here, I’ve become empowered to believe it’s something I can do,” Savory says.

The Powerhouse Theater Program, which finished its 29th season last month, is a unique collaboration between Vassar and New York Stage and Film, an established professional theater company. Powerhouse is nationally renowned for its dedication to new theater works through support for both emerging and established artists.

Over an eight-week span, Savory and 15 other young drama students, including three others from Vassar, took acting classes and performed in plays ranging from Greek tragedy to Shakespearean comedies to modern experimental works at various locations throughout the campus.

The apprentices’ typical day begins with four hours of classes in acting, voice and movement, followed by rehearsals that sometimes go on until 10 or 11 p.m.

Savory was a member of the chorus in Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, then played a leading role as the strutting, macho “El Capitano” in the sixteenth- century Italian farce, Commedia dell-Arte. She says the training she’s receiving as a Powerhouse apprentice has “really stretched me” as an artist.

“Most of my training has involved looking at my characters intellectually, thinking about what motivates them,” she says. “Here at Powerhouse, we’re learning more about physicality, to figure out how your character should move on the stage.”

Savory during one of her drama/movement classes.

Savory said the only instructions she was given when she arrived for the apprenticeship was, “Come in with a clean slate and expect the unexpected.” She says she’s heeded that advice.

“Our teachers have such varied approaches, our bodies and minds are being exercised and engaged in many different ways,” she says.

Savory credits visiting director Jessi Hill with challenging her to find new ways to express herself on stage.

“She’s taught me to take the character as far as you can go, then rely on the director to pull you back. There’s a lot of trust involved,” she says.

Hill, a graduate of Yale Drama School who works as a freelance director in New York City, says she chose Savory for one of the most difficult roles in Commedia dell-Arte because she had proven in her classes and rehearsals she could handle it.

“Aran played a macho male role and had a lot of work to do to make that character work, and she’s up to the challenge,” she says.

Hill says she admires all of the apprentices she worked with here this summer. “Anyone willing to put in the hours these young people do has a hunger and a drive most people don’t have, so I know I’m working with a group of rally motivated actors,” she says. “They come here with a ‘say yes’ attitude about their work, and Aran is a big part of that.”

Savory says she plans to major in drama and has already made plans to be a part of a student production during the next school year. She says her experience as a Powerhouse apprentice has only enhanced her love of the theater.

“Taking a character off a page, bringing it to life and sharing it with an audience, nothing else compares to that for me,” she says. “Nothing else I do is as inspiring as acting.”

--Larry Hertz

Photos ©Vassar College-Buck Lewis