In the summer of 2004, actor Kevin O'Rourke and Williams theatre Professor Robert Baker-White were at the old Adams Memorial Theatre in Williamstown, looking at the pit that would become the ‘62 Center for Theatre and Dance.
The new CenterStage was earmarked for the college's theater and dance departments, but students didn't perform over the summer.
"I said, ‘We could find something to do with that time,'" said O'Rourke. They launched the Williams Summer Theatre Lab the next summer. To celebrate ten years they are holding a 10th Anniversary Open Lab Weekend with performances and more.
The Theatre Lab is an eight-week program where a group of Williams students study theatre full time with Williams alumni who are in the performing arts.
O'Rourke and his co-artistic director, Caitlin Sullivan, spend most of the summer with the students. Regular collaborators, like Jay Tarses and Margie Duffield workshop with students for a week or two.
"The first summer, we had 45 seats," O'Rourke said. "No one really knew were there. The big project was a one act play with shipping palates as a set.
Now, the Lab uses around 100 seats. This year's projects include a full-length play that is being staged tonight and tomorrow, "Go That Way."
This is O'Rourke's last summer as artistic director (he's now busy with acting in New York), but he and Sullivan seem unfazed. Sullivan is a lab alum, from its second summer, and was assistant artistic director for two years before becoming co-artistic director this summer.
"Caitlin is committed to the mission to bring together students and alumni," said O'Rourke. "She's incredibly good at helping young artists to develop."
Ariel Chu, a sophomore participating in the lab, said, "Caitlin has been really great with giving us space to do our own projects as a resource ... Kevin gives advice more from a professional standpoint."
Additionally, O'Rourke is an actor, while Sullivan directs.
Sullivan is part of the Satori Group, a Seattle-based theatre company she founded with fellow Lab alumni. Satori runs "Satori Lab," which develops new plays, and has been a regular collaborator with the Williams Summer Theatre Lab for years.
"I love working with emerging artists still trying to figure out who they are as artists," said Sullivan. "There's a rawness, an honesty to student actors."
This summer, Sullivan is directing "Go That Way," written by another Lab alum, Amanda Keating, a Williams class of 2012.
The play is about three siblings and a friend who go on a road trip to find their father after their mother dies. The two older siblings are close, but one younger, and they discover they do not know each other.
"It's not trying to be super cerebral," Chu said. "It's honest about these people. Work that's produced during the lab takes a lot of risks."
It's Keating's second full-length play to be produced. "I've been working on the play for two years," she said. While at the lab, she has rewritten, workshopped and done free writes with the actors, which "informed how the play works."
"It's been like a retreat to get to be out of the city" for the summer, she said, a rare opportunity for a young artist. "It's been great to get feedback and work with smart, thoughtful people who care about the play."
"It's the first opportunity [except for the Satori Group] to support a Lab alum's work," Sullivan said.
The characters in the play are portrayed by members of this summer's lab, Joseph Baca, Jacqueline Lewy, Jonah Levine and Spencer McCarrey. Everyone involved, except for Keating and Sullivan, is a lab member.
They have only had a week and a half of rehearsals, in addition to table work and workshops. "We are a laboratory. We take work and nurture it and see where it goes. People like seeing the process," O'Rourke said.
Rose Miles, a rising sophomore, is the assistant director for "Go That Way."
It's her first directing experience, and "Caitlin's a really brilliant director to learn from and be around," she said.
Miles noted the way the play uses space. Because it's a road trip story, much of it is confined to the car, which they represent with a couch and two chairs calling to mind a living room.
Drawing on the experience assistant directing "Go That Way," she will be directing a show called "Water by the Spoonful" with Cap and Bells, a Williams student troupe, in the fall. David Carter, a sophomore and the Lab's Student Production Assistant, will be stage managing, his first time stage managing.
Saturday, the Theatre Lab will host a "Panel on Williams in the performing arts" with alumni, moderated by David Eppel, chair of the Williams theatre department. They aim to investigate, "How does an artist develop?" O'Rourke said.
Following the panel, there will be a showcase of student work developed during the lab. This includes pieces written by students during the Lab, like Chu's short play about two sisters, one of which comes out as gay to their intolerant family.
Other students will sing pieces they worked on performances of ‘85 alum Michael Winther. Carter is singing "No One Goes to an Amusement Park Alone," by Carmel Dean.
Saturday night brings in an alumni gala and cabaret.
Sarah Sanders, who will perform, is a class of ‘13 actor who has joined in the lab twice, after her first and third years at Williams.
"It was the first time I tried writing, the first time I did costume work, the first time I really spent time on the grid hanging lights," Sanders said. "I loved all of it. It definitely affirmed that, yes, this is what I want to do."
Sanders will sing a song from a show she wrote with lab classmates Justine Neubarth and Becca Fallon, "How (Not) To Be Alone," produced by Cap and Bells.
"It never would have happened without the work we got to do at the Lab," she said.
If you go ...
What: Williams Summer Theatre Lab 10th Anniversary Season Open Lab Weekend
When: 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday Aug. 14 and 15 - ‘Go That Way' by Amanda Keating
Thursday Aug. 14 after Go That Way - Opening Night Reception
5 p.m. Friday Aug. 15 Happy Hour @ The Purple Pub with a cash bar
10:30 a.m. Saturday Aug. 16 - Bagels and coffee / Meet and Greet with 2014 Lab Company and Lab Alumni
11 a.m. Saturday Aug. 16 - Panel on Williams in the Performing Arts
2 p.m. Saturday Aug. 16 - Original Works from the 2014 Lab Company
7 p.m. Saturday Aug. 16 - 10th Anniversary Gala & Cabaret
Where: CenterStage, ‘62 Center for Theatre and Dance, 1000 Main St, Williamstown
Admission: Gala and Cabaret: $10 for Williams class of 2010 or later, $20 for all others. All other events free.
Information: facebook.com/wcstl or (413) 597-4839