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Students collaborate with professionals to debut Cafe Variations

On April 13, more than 60 Emerson students (working on stage and behind the scenes) will present the world premiere of Café Variations, a production directed by Anne Bogart that celebrates café culture with a combination of vignettes from Charles Mee’s Café Plays and music from the canon of George and Ira Gershwin. The show is a co-production with Emerson Stage, ArtsEmerson, and Bogart’s acclaimed SITI Company—a collaboration that has given each Performing Arts student involved an experience unique from any other campus production.

Emerson students rehearse for Cafe Variations alongside professionals.

Café Variations combines dialogue, dance, and music to tell the story of a café owner who falls instantly in love with a woman who has entered his café in tears. On approaching her, he trips and falls, creating a loud crash that sends the overture—and the dancing—into motion.

“This play is about what it means to fractalize; the café owner stands for many men and she stands for many women,” Bogart said. “It’s about the courage it takes in walking toward someone you want to connect with and making a horrible fool of yourself, but still proceeding and making a connection.”

“These students are fantastic, highly trained, beautiful singers, beautiful dancers, and this is rare. They all have the ability to do extraordinary things.”

Bogart observes that one of the challenges of creating an entirely new piece of work is creating a clear journey for the audience. The collaboration between Bogart’s SITI Company members and Emerson students on stage renders the romantic scenes ubiquitous to the lively world of the café. Each song and scene is a discreet short play, but fits together as a whole piece, with a complete narrative.

“These students are fantastic, highly trained, beautiful singers, beautiful dancers, and this is rare,” said Bogart. “They all have the ability to do extraordinary things.”

For many of these students, working with Anne Bogart is the most fulfilling experience in their performing arts career at Emerson.

Devin Holloway '14, a Musical Theatre major playing Henry B, said that the collaboration is inspiring because SITI Company members are bold and brave every time they are on stage. “It gives me the confidence to make mistakes in rehearsals and find solutions in them,” he said. “I feel that we are all each other’s mentors. The cast constantly works and learns together in some shape or form.”

Hallie Brevetti '13, a Musical Theatre major, plays Tilly C. She said Bogart brings an enormous amount of humor, positivity, and generosity to the room. “She expects a ton from us, but is also always allowing herself to learn new things and even let us teach her things. She is truly a teacher in this way,” she said. “We have read the brilliant essays she has written and heard about what a legend she is in the world of theater, but we were surprised to see how much she is always challenging herself to learn new things about the craft. She never lets herself stay comfortable.”

Students and professional performers from SITI Company rehearse a dance for Cafe Variations.

Melia Bensussen, chair and associate professor of Emerson’s Performing Arts Department, believes that students are gaining invaluable experience and knowledge from the integration of a professional company, a renowned director, Emerson faculty, and students themselves.

“This is very unique, to have an artist of Anne Bogart’s stature, creating and directing a new American musical…and including 22 of our Performing Arts majors,” she said. “We talk about theater as an apprenticeship; you train to become a colleague of your faculty and of the guest artists. This is put into practice working side-by-side with working professionals. It serves to amplify the professional qualities of our department and simply broadcast them in a new setting. It helps show off how much these students belong in this kind of professional endeavor.”

Café Variations makes its world premiere on April 13 in the historic Cutler Majestic Theatre and runs for two weekends only, through April 22. Tickets are on sale now: $25 – $75 for the general audience; and for the first weekend only, $10 for Emerson students, faculty, and staff. To purchase tickets, visit, call 617-824-8400, or stop by the Cutler Majestic Theatre box office at 219 Tremont Street, Boston.

NOTE: Emerson tickets must be purchased in-person at the box office, with an Emerson photo ID.

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