This weekend, the St. Olaf Theater Department will premiere “All That is Solid Melts Into Air,” written by Dominic Orlando and directed by Professor of Theater Karen Peterson Wilson, as part of the New Plays on Campus program, a collaboration between the college and the Minnesota Playwright Center.
The play, which will be performed in Haugen Theater six times between Thursday, Oct. 4 and Sunday, Oct. 7, features Ben Swenson-Klatt ’16, Noelle McCabe ’15, Joey LeBrun ’15 and Rachel Saliares ’13 in leading roles.
According to Wilson, who has already directed three other new plays in collaboration with the Minnesota Playwright Center, “All That is Solid Melts Into Air“ is a great play to stage on a college campus. The drama centers on an international businesswoman named Claudia Hopewell played by McCabe who embarks on the search for eternal life following the deaths of her mother and sister.
“Orlando’s work is a strong play about death and life,” Wilson said. “It’s also a really smart play filled with references, terms and images from throughout history, so it’s perfect for college students.”
The New Plays on Campus program allows theater students and faculty to work closely with a playwright in residence as they prepare to perform a new play for the first time anywhere. This collaboration thus benefits both the playwrights, who often have a difficult time trying to find a theater that will premiere never-before-seen plays, and the students, who learn what it’s like to work alongside a professional playwright.
“It’s a whole new dynamic to work with a living playwright, since we can ask him questions and get feedback as we rehearse,” said Denzel Belin ’15, assistant director. “When you’re doing a Shakespeare play, you don’t get to ask any questions about how to stage a scene.”
The version of the play that will premiere this weekend includes some fairly substantial changes from the script that Orlando originally presented to Wilson. As Orlando watched the initial rehearsals of the play and got to hear how his script sounded out loud, he decided to rewrite the drama. Although the play has surely benefited from Orlando’s revisions, the changed script posed some challenges for the student actors, who had already been working very hard to have the performance ready by the beginning of October, only a month after auditions.
“Orlando gave us the newly revised script on a Tuesday,” Wilson says. “The actors were supposed to have everything memorized on that following Wednesday.”
Such challenges aside, the chance to see how a playwright responds to early performances of a play and change the script accordingly is an excellent example of the educational opportunities afforded by the New Plays on Campus program. Beyond working with students on the play’s production, Orlando has also met with and offered advice to aspiring playwrights on campus.
“The New Plays program is a great educational opportunity. It’s really student-centered, allowing these young actors to work directly with a professional,” Wilson says.
On Friday, Oct. 5 from 12 to 1:30 p.m., the theater department is hosting a “Brown Bag Lunch with Artist,” during which Orlando will discuss his play and will take part in a Q&A session with the audience. Following Saturday’s 2 p.m. performance, Orlando will hold a post-show discussion session with the audience.
The play features a rather intricate set design, created by faculty member Todd Edwards, that reflects the drama’s examinations of complicated issues.
“‘All That is Solid’ has the most tech-heavy set that Haugen Theater has ever seen, bar none,” Belin said. “We have some rather wacko lighting that’s super subtle and super cool.”
Along with the elaborate lighting and technical design, the production also incorporates some pre-recorded footage, the filming of which was handled by Ben Harvey ’14, Caroline Holden ’14 and Phil Schramm ’13.
In other words, the cast and crew of “All That is Solid Melts Into Air“ have pulled out all the stops in order to make the world premiere of Orlando’s play an exciting and memorable experience for the St. Olaf community.