Published April 20, 2020
UB alumnus Alan Zweibel, a five-time Emmy Award-winning original writer for “Saturday Night Live,” inaugurated the College of Arts and Sciences’ Visiting Professor in the Arts endowment in February 2020 with the start of a residency project at UB which included fourteen students from Theatre and Dance (THD) professor Maria Horne’s Theatre Workshop / Creative Research Lab. The multi-disciplinary project was initiated by UB Arts Collaboratory, which cultivates creative exchanges among arts disciplines.
Unfortunately Covid-19 forced a change of plans, but the good news is that the project and workshops have transitioned to the digital realm, as have all other spring 2020 THD courses. Our student artists have been resilient, embracing the challenge and pivot to other mediums.
Using the memoir “Bunny Bunny,” about his friendship and comedic collaborations with original SNL star Gilda Radner as a reference and starting point, Zweibel has been working closely with Horne’s students and Bronwyn Keenan, Director for the Arts Collaboratory, to develop their own creative interdisciplinary projects which would have been shared during public performances at UB Center for the Arts in May 2020.
Weekly workshops with Zweibel continue online via video conferencing. Keenan also recruited professional comedian David Hill to conduct an upcoming mini-master class in comedy, including how to write jokes and scripts, getting into the entertainment business and networking within it, plus any related areas of interest to participating students. Hill will also show the students how he is creating work during quarantine.
An animation component, which has proven invaluable to the students and their eventual final projects, was developed with Jef “Wolfy” Scharf, an illustrator and animator whose work is in the collections of MoMA and the Whitney Museum of Art.
“It has been very intense and very much a collaborative experience,” said Horne, including fully immersive weekend sessions. During both the in-person sessions and the transition to online workshops, Horne is pleased to have had 100% attendance from her students.
Horne’s Creative Research Lab students have incorporated multiple new online platforms into their project work including: Zoom, WebEx, Blackboard, and various interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary visuals. They’re developing individual pieces from home, and will share them with Zweibel, the Arts Collaboratory, and their fellow students in the final weeks of the spring semester.
The project has also integrated additional THD professors, including dance instructors Thomas Ralabate and Jeanne Fornarola, and theater instructors Vincent O’Neill and Kathleen Golde. “It has been a pleasure collaborating with faculty and students in the Department of Theatre and Dance, all of whom have shown real grit and resiliency in adapting what was meant to be a multi-disciplinary production of Alan Zweibel’s ‘Bunny Bunny’ into a dynamic arts variety show,” said Keenan. “Maria Horne is a true champion of the students and their work.”
With the assistance of instructors and students from UB Media Study, a documentary piece that highlights the student pieces will be assembled to share at the beginning of the fall 2020 semester, as well as online.
“The first time Alan came on campus he had 30 minute interviews with each of the students,” Professor Horne said, praising Zweibel’s investment of time and energy into making the project more substantial. Toward that effort, one senior student’s interest in the business side of the industry (as opposed to performance) led to new contacts facilitated by Zweibel. “Alan helped to connect her with people he knows at some of the talent agencies,” said Horne. “He’s looking at how to mentor and help the students continue in whatever direction they want to go, to guide them into their post-graduate careers.”
This project is a great example of how the Theatre and Dance Department collaborates with university partners to provide innovate educational opportunities both in person and in the digital and hybrid realms.