The Theatre Department at Northampton Community College is known for pushing theatrical limits and exploring diverse themes through their various productions.
The department just wrapped their Spring 2017 season which focused heavily on socio-political issues such as religion, censorship and guns on campus. Program Coordinator Bill Mutimer said the department strongly benefits from the diverse student population at NCC. Consequently, performers have the chance to be exposed to edgier and newer playwrights.
“The administration is very open to us pushing the envelope with topics like guns on campus, gentrification, sexuality, [and other] societal themes,” said Mutimer. “A lot of schools rely on their ticket sales to keep their program going, we don’t. We can put these stories forth, and if people chose not to come see them, it’s not going to hurt the program. So, we have a much stronger voice in the fact that we’re not censored or controlled by ticket sales.”
The Theatre department is funded by the state, and has an annual budget set aside by the college for things like set materials, licenses for plays and other needs throughout the academic year.
Admission to theatrical performances is a suggested five-dollar donation to the Norman Roberts Scholarship Fund, which goes to graduating Theatre majors who are pursuing the arts at a four-year school, or a non-perishable food item donated to the NCC food bank.
This fall marks the 50th anniversary of the college, and to celebrate the theatrical season will reflect the 1960s. The Broadway musical “Hair” will be the main show in the fall as it opened in 1967, the same year as NCC.
“We haven’t announced what the other show will be, but it will be a contemporary nonmusical piece,” Mutimer said. “We have an option for you if you want to sing, ‘Hair’ the musical. And if you don’t want to sing, there is another option for you that will (be performed) in November.”
Students in the program agree with Mutimer and share his belief that the diverse and newer plays help make NCC theater special.
Although NCC was not Hannah Cummings’ first choice, the Theatre major said she has learned a lot during her time at the college. “It was actually my very last option, and I was not looking forward to it at all,” Cummings said. “I ended up loving it. My favorite part of the program is the variety of different shows we do, and opportunities to work with different people. We meet a lot of people, and we’re exposed to a lot of the local theaters thanks to Bill and Clair (Freeman).”
Theatre major Sean Catino agreed, stating that the department heads make things extra enjoyable for those involved.
“Bill and Clair are really cool, all the professors really push us to work and the process is really refreshing,” Catino said. “My friend was a [Theatre] major here, and I saw a lot of shows so I decided to come here too. Theater exposes you to completely different experiences, and helps you to grow and expand as a person, and I think it’s just hella fun!”
Miranda Ritter, also a Theatre major, was encouraged to pursue the arts in college by her high school theater director. She decided to come to Northampton and found a closely-knit group that she now considers an extended family.
“Because it’s a smaller program, we’re all like a family. My favorite part is doing newer, cool shows,” Ritter said. “For me, I’m socially awkward, so theater is a good outlet for stress relief.”
Mutimer has been involved in theater since childhood and believes anyone can benefit from being taking part in performances.
“Everyone is welcome,” Mutimer said. “I think that it works really well [for anyone]; it makes you more confident in front of people, and in your skills it helps you to be adept at thinking on your feet and being able to handle [different] situations. I also think that it teaches you how to prioritize, because you can’t, in theater, be procrastinating, because you can’t build a whole set in a night. So, you have to learn to be efficient, or it doesn’t get done.”
Any current NCC student, no matter their major, can audition for a part in the department’s productions, and casting is always held the first Wednesday and Thursday of each semester.
The upcoming Fall 2017 auditions will be held August 23 and 24 in the Lipkin Theatre on the Bethlehem campus, and callbacks will be August 25. A cookout will be held an hour prior to auditions on August 23 to welcome newcomers to the program, and to brief participants on upcoming theater events.
The Lehigh Valley is brimming with theatrical talent, and every year brings a new series of musicals, classical dramas and other fun events dispersed throughout the summer months.
This year Northampton Community College is joining the ranks of programs like Muhlenberg College’s Summer Music Theatre and DeSales University’s Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival to bring professional opportunities to students and the surrounding area.
“I don’t see us all competing, I see us all working together in a weird way,” said Bill Mutimer, NCC Theatre department program coordinator. “There’s enough, I think, people that are interested in the arts, that I think that everybody will be okay, and a little healthy competition is not a bad thing. DeSales only does one musical, and a lot of the classical works. Muhlenberg tends to do more of the older musicals, like ‘My Fair Lady,’ and we’re doing these more contemporary [pieces]. So there’s a little something for everybody, depending on what you’re looking for.” The Northampton Community College Summer Theatre website reads, “Combining professional and local talent with a spectacular brand new season of distinction.”
Along with opening auditions to local talent, students from around the country also had the opportunity to audition which Mutimer says will help current NCC students decide what path they want to choose after graduation.
“My students keep asking, ‘What schools are good to go to? How do I know if I’ll fit well with the school?’ Part of the program is to bring other college students from other colleges here to campus to work with our students to that they can talk, so they can open that dialogue,” Mutimer said. “They can talk about what it’s like to go to their program, so it gives [NCC students] ideas of possible transfer colleges. It gives everybody a chance to network with each other and to put professional credits on their resumes.”
Along with Mutimer, NCC Theatre Professor Clair M. Freeman and Notre Dame High School Theatre Director Rody Gilkeson will be directing the five pieces that run from mid-June through early August.
NCC Theatre major Miranda Ritter will be assistant stage manager for two of the musicals, and stage manager for “A Year with Frog and Toad,” which is directed by Freeman.
“I feel like now that we’re having this [summer season] it’ll prove that we’re out there on the same level with the other schools,” Ritter said. “I’m excited.” The NCC Summer Theatre season opens on June 15 with “John and Jen,” and closes August 6 with “Ragtime: The Musical.” Tickets and more information can be found on their website at nccsummertheatre.org.