A look into Century College’s theater department.
Century College’s theater department was founded 51 years ago and has since thrived as a vibrant part of the college experience for many students. Students can earn an Associate of Fine Arts in Theatre degree. Classes include theater appreciation, acting, technical theater and more.
Students can showcase their skills in three performances throughout the school year. The department often collaborates with and includes members of the White Bear Lake community.
“Our program involves many A.F.A. degree-seeking students, many Century students seeking other degrees and certificates, as well as many community members,” says Paul Aberasturi, theater department coordinator and full-time faculty member.
Aberasturi is an integral part of the program’s success and has contributed to many students’ success in the theater world. He has been a part of the Century theater family for the past five years. Previously, he worked as a theater director across the country as well as teaching in other colleges. He teaches multiple-level acting classes including musical theater, creative dramatics, script analysis and acting for the camera, all crucial aspects of becoming a theater major.
“I was hired at Century College five years ago when they did a national search for an individual to lead, grow and elevate the quality of the theater program, as well as to design a degree in theater,” says Aberasturi.
Aberasturi founded the Transfer Pathway Associate of Fine Arts (A.F.A.) in Theatre degree, a two-year associate’s degree program for students who wish to pursue a bachelor’s degree. Students can earn their first two years of credits and transfer into any university as a junior. This program is not just for those studying theater—it is open to students pursuing any major.
“In addition to creating an A.F.A. in Theatre degree, I‘ve designed new courses in theater and put a larger focus on the quality of the public theater performances,” says Aberasturi.
He has produced and directed a number of productions including Grapes of Wrath, Clybourne Park, God of Carnage and musicals including Spring Awakening and The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Aberasturi says he works closely with technical director and scenic designer Will Slayden.
Slayden has been working at Century College for the past 13 years designing and building all sets and being responsible for all technical work needed to make shows run smoothly. He has been working in theater for over 20 years.
Slayden believes Century’s theater program’s success is in part due to its relatively small size, and the opportunity for students to gain experience in all aspects of theater. He wants students to be familiar with costume design and the work involved in managing a production.
“Many of our students move on to active careers in the Twin Cities theater community, and I firmly believe that is directly [due to] their focused training here,” says Slayden.
Both Aberasturi and Slayden work closely with Shirley Mier, a faculty member in Century’s music department and director of the vocal and pit orchestras for all of the college’s musicals.
Grant E. Merges, a highly skilled lighting designer, is an important part of the team during plays and musicals, says Aberasturi. “Grant is considered to be one of the best lighting designers in the Twin Cities area,” he says.
The department hires designers from the Twin Cities area for all sound work and costumes. This creates a local connection and sense of community that the department thrives on, says Aberasturi. This year, Katey Houck will be creating all of the costumes.
Aberasturi says he wants the mission of the program to be reflected in both academically preparing students to earn their bachelor’s degree as well as to allow room for students and other members of the community to have a space to practice their craft so they can gain experience in performing and working in different productions.
“Whether the [participants] plan to seek careers in theater or [want to] participate in theater as a life-long hobby, the environment created, the methodologies used and the higher level of expectations and rigor placed upon all the participants is directed towards elevating the understanding of process, acquired knowledge and expectations in professional theater,” says Aberasturi.
Georgia Reding and Dan Prather are both students in the program who plan to complete A.F.A. degrees and build careers in theater.
Reding’s passion for acting started when she was young and has been growing ever since. “I’ve always been active in productions—throughout high school and around the community. I’ve now performed in three of Century College’s productions. My first was A Streetcar Named Desire as Stella, then The Grapes of Wrath as Elizabeth Sandry. [In November, I] portrayed Marcy Park in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” says Reding.
Prather says because of his relationships with the programs’ teachers and staff, Century College has made him a better actor, pushing himself to take on roles that require him to conjure difficult emotions.
“I am looking to make theater performance my career. I keep coming back to this program because I keep learning [here],” says Prather.
The college’s 330-seat theater is located on its west campus. Their productions are open for participation to anyone and everyone, whether or not they are enrolled in the theater degree program.
“Our company is not a community theater, but is a college theater company open to the community,” he says.
Aberasturi says, “[I choose] plays that have award-winning histories and challenge audience members’ thoughts and established values as much as the piece challenges the theater company producing it.”
“While we don’t have alumni who have won a Tony Award yet—but that time will come—we have numerous alumni who are active in the theater scene throughout the Twin Cities and in theaters around the country,” says Aberasturi.
Last Summer at Bluefish Cove
With an all-female cast, the play follows a group of friends who spend summers together at a cabin on the Long Island shore. The play has been recognized as one of the first to portray lesbian women as full, three-dimensional characters.
April 17-May 2
This play features music from Stephen Schwartz, musical creator for award-winning productions including Wicked and Pippin.