As a freshman member of Hoof ‘n’ Horn, Nathaniel Hill had a minor role in Sweeney Todd, the first collaboration between the musical group and the departments of music, dance, and theater studies in a decade. Smitten with the scope of talent around him, he imagined someday bringing a show of his own to the stage.
Hill went on to produce Hoof ‘n’ Horn’s production of Rent in his second semester, but he still sought something more—something with the broad artistic sweep of Sweeney Todd. After a New York internship with awardwinning producer and former Duke professor Manny Azenberg, he was encouraged to do what no Duke student had done before: take on a senior distinction project in producing.
The result of that project is Ragtime, a performance that will bring together students from dance, music, and theater studies, as well as student groups such as Hoof ‘n’ Horn, the Duke Chamber Players, and the Duke Marketing Club. The show, which debuts April 5 in Reynolds Theater, re-creates an epic narrative of different ethnic communities in early twentieth-century New York—a fittingly ambitious work for Hill’s thesis.
To bring Ragtime to life, Hill worked with the departments of music, dance, and theater studies to identify a project with enough pedagogic integrity that it could be offered as an academic class. The three departments agreed to cross-list a course, in which many of the more than 100 cast and crew members are now enrolled. The production has a budget of around $50,000—significantly more than average for theater shows.
While Duke doesn’t currently offer courses focused explicitly on producing, the theater department’s new core requirements in acting, directing, dramatic writing, and design can yield the kind of wellrounded skills producers need, says Jeff Storer, professor of the practice in theater studies and one of Hill’s advisers. “Any producer needs to know how theater is made,” he says.
Hill’s energy and drive, however, aren’t products of a classroom. “Nate is a force of nature,” says Storer. “There’s never been anyone like Nate in my thirty years here, someone so certain of where he’s headed and how to make the most of Duke.”