Theatre department to put on two plays after receiving national recognition

Jessie Hellmann

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NATIONAL RECOGNATION

USI’s Theater Department has experienced some success within the last few months that will no doubt give them a confidence booster for the upcoming performances, “All’s Well that Ends Well” and “Pride and Prejudice” both showing in late March and early April on a rotating basis.

The USI theater production of “RENT” received recognition from the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (ACTF), receiving several “distinguished” degrees of recognition from the center.

The group received distinguished recognition for the following: production of a musical, direction of a musical, and two actors were given distinguished actor recognition, Anachebe Asomugha for his role as Collins and Adam Woodruff for his role as Mark in “RENT.”

Elliot Wasserman, Theater Department chair and “All’s Well that Ends Well” director said the “RENT” cast was “jubilate” when they learned of the recognition they received.

Eight judges saw about 70 plays during the regional festivals, Wasserman said.

“At the end of that time they got together and determined which productions were going to receive special recognition, and we were very fortunate and very happy to be so named,” Wasserman said.

Despite the recognition, Wasserman said attending the festival was the biggest payoff.

At the festival students attended acting workshops and viewed plays from other schools across the region.

“Anytime you see someone else doing good work, you get ideas,” Wasserman said. “So I’m sure (USI’s theatre workers) took things away with them. I’m sure they looked at some things and said ‘wow, there’s an idea I haven’t thought of before.'”

 

ABOUT THE THEATRE SEASON

The Theater Department decides what plays will be performed a year in advance, Wasserman said.

Four plays show every school year, two each semester.

One semester is designated the “university theater” semester, and the other is designated the “repertory theater” season. Only students and faculty perform in the university theater season.

For the repertory theater semester, the theater department selects two professional actors from the New Harmony Theatre, who often come from New York City, to perform alongside the student actors.

“We have the opportunity to cast two actors who can assume roles that arguably can be extremely difficult for a student to assume,” Wasserman said.

The professional actors may assume the role of an older character, or other roles that could stress a student, he said.

The plays that will be performed are determined by several factors, Wasserman said.

The plays must feature variety, cultural enlightenment, and should challenge actors, designers and others involved with the performances, he said.

“Shakespeare’s R&J” and “RENT” were performed during the Fall Semester.

“PRIDE AND PREJUDICE”

When freshman Andrea Hemmer received the role of Elizabeth Bennet in “Pride and Prejudice” she became overwhelmed with excitement but felt daunted by the script.

“Elizabeth Bennet is one of the main female heroes in literature,” she said. “It was daunting at first, but I started reading the script… She’s such a strong character. I feel honored to take on the role.”

“It’s challenging, but I love it,” she said. “She’s happy, sad, angry. It’s a joy to play but a challenge.”

Hemmer said one of the challenges of learning her role was memorizing her lines and taking on a British accent.

Hemmer, along with 13 other actors, will perform in Pride and Prejudice from March 20-22 and and March 30- April 1.

The play takes place in 19th-century England and is about relationships in a time period where marriages are arranged out of financial reasons and not love, said Eric Altheide, assistant theater professor and “Pride and Prejudice” director.

The play follows lead character, Elizabeth Bennet, as she falls in love with Mr. Darcy, played by Preston Edge, the perfect example of a really proud arrogant English man, Altheide said.

“Elizabeth initially hates him, but the whole play is about how they begin to get into a relationship and overcoming the prejudices they have about each other,” Altheide said.

With the two performances, some actors from one play will also work backstage for the other play, Altheide said.

“They get experience being on stage one night, and then the next night they’re working back stage and learning what it is to have to do two shows in a rotating style,” he said.

Hemmer, performing as Elizabeth, will also work as a wardrobe supervisor for “All’s Well that Ends Well.” She prepares the costumes ready for performances and washes and irons them.

 

ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL”

Elliot Wasserman, USI theater department chair and director of “All’s Well That Ends Well,” said he describes the play as a fairy tale.

A young woman, Helena, stars in the play as a peasant in love with a count. She cannot be with the count because he is socially out of reach, Wasserman said.

The dying king of France offered her a chance to be with the count because she healed the king with a medicine obtained from her father.

“She’s just a young girl who is very deeply in love with a count who is beyond her reach socially,” Wasserman said. “The play is about what happens in that situation where you have a young lady who is authorized by the king to choose a husband in this most untraditional of ways because she has been able to perform a kind of miracle. I call that a fairy tale.”

Unlike the handsome, charming princes and beautiful princesses in fairy tales, Shakespeare’s play exhibits more complicated plots and characters, Wasserman said.

“So, attempting as they do to abide by the rules of the fairy tale is a real problem for a character in a Shakespearean play, and that more than anything is what the play is about,” Wasserman said.

Wasserman said he experienced some obstacles in the form of casting because several of the characters are older, and most of the actors are in their early 20s.

“Once I exhaust my two professional actors, I have to look at the other possibilities by the students or by faculty,” he said. “I had to cast very carefully.”

The actors are doing very well in their roles, though, he said.

Trying to ensure the audience understands the Shakespearean language presented a challenge as well, Wasserman said.

The cast will try to use action, attitude and inflection to convey meanings to the audience, he said.

“We try to make certain the action is always clear to the audience,” he said.

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