In the tradition of The Complete Works of Shakespeare (abridged), comes Psych 101, an introductory college course on psychology brought to you in a breakneck 90 minutes. Join Table Salt Production’s Jim Robinson, who actually did teach psychology courses for 20 years at various local colleges, as he travels against the tide of online learning in a sketch-comedy musical where the audience becomes students.
Robinson penned the script and lyrics in collaboration with fellow Table Salt co-founder, Dennis Curley, who wrote the music. The show is framed as an actual Psych 101 class, with actors playing students onstage. There's one returning nontraditional student who loves to learn, a girl who couldn’t get into econ, and a guy who’s taking the class to meet women. The audience also becomes part of the show, playing the rest of the students taking the class.
This isn't the first time that Robinson has created with Curley. “I can’t work a radio but I can write lyrics,” says Robinson. “The way it works for us is that I send him a whole batch of lyrics and tell him where they’ll go… It’s collaborative, but he really takes what I’ve done and creates something I love.”
In the piece, which is based on real-life issues that colleges and universities face, Robinson plays a professor who struggles against his institution, which thinks it can make more money offering the class online. His students say they don’t have time to attend classes, so he tells them all they need to know in one 90-minute meetup.
For years, Robinson made his living as a professor, first in English and later in psychology. Meanwhile, he also found time to perform on the main stage at the Brave New Workshop for 10 years. “I’d teach in the morning and perform sketch comedy at night,” he says.
While he loved his job, and had a great experience teaching at places like St. Kate’s and St. Thomas, he really did feel a hesitation with the move toward online learning as a substitute for in-person education. “I recognize the importance of it for economic reasons, but it’s not the same as an actual classroom,” he says.
In fact, his favorite thing about teaching was being in the classroom and watching students interact with each other. “We are becoming isolated,” he says. “College is about bringing people together to talk about important things. Why are we working against that?”
Last February, Robinson made the leap toward making a go of it full-time as a theater professional, so now he’s using his experience to fuel his role in the show (though he actually wrote it while he was still a professor).
Table Salt Productions first presented Psych 101 last year at Bryant-Lake Bowl. They have also performed the show at Dreamland Arts and at St. Thomas University, and plan to take the production to more colleges and universities this year.
The show is laid out in such a way that the audience gets a dose of what might be like to take a psychology course. That’s partly because he referred to his own syllabus when he was writing the play. They do a section on reward and punishment, another on human development (a cast member is hypnotized), and do a bit about Freudian personality structure that includes audience participation.
The “course” includes various types of therapy, which are all based on genuine psychological methodologies, and Curley’s songs are sprinkled in between the sketches to add to the entertainment. There’s a torch song about neurological disorders, and a rap about the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Through all of it, however, they’re careful not to make fun of people with mental illness. Rather, the joke is on the science of studying psychology.
IF YOU GO:
7 p.m. Friday and Saturday
$15 at the door; $12 in advance or with a Fringe button.
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