Author: suther1

“Be Here Now” flops on account of half-baked script

The official St. Olaf Theater Department season began last weekend with a production of “Be Here Now,” directed by Dr. Karen Peterson Wilson in Haugen Theater. Supposedly based on Anton Chekhov’s “Three Sisters,” the story indeed revolves around three sisters orphaned after their parents’ deaths. At first, the sisters are all in various stages of dissatisfaction with their love lives, which seems to be the focus of the show. The oldest sister, Olivia (Jacqueline Radke ’18),  pines after her sister Michelle’s (Sabrina Wieczorek ’20) fiancé, Patrick (Lucas Hering ’21), and ends up dating him. Michelle, as uninterested in her fiancé as her sister is obsessed, starts a fling with a soldier named Jim (Tyler Seufert ’19), and eventually leaves Patrick. All this happens while the youngest sister Izzy (Veronica Silva ’20) moves between a never seen boyfriend to Zeke (Ch’aska Farber ’21) and travels to New Zealand and back. Opposite Chekhov’s play, “Be Here Now” ends not with the three sisters’ uncertain futures, but with hopeful futures as all the sisters happily embrace the man of their choice.

“Be Here Now” was originally commissioned in 2013 from playwright Carson Kreitzer by the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, and Kreitzer has been developing the play since then. During the rehearsal process, Kreitzer came to campus on at least one occasion to give a small playwriting master class. Not many of the department shows produced at St. Olaf boast the opportunity to work with a living playwright, and the experience must have been incredibly informative for those working on the production. But as for the performance I saw, I found the show lacking.

Kreitzer’s script severely disappoints.  Whether a product of underdevelopment or overdevelopment, the script communicates its ideas with bland and generic neutrality. Seemingly, Kreitzer is unable to say anything about anything through her script. She didn’t develop any major themes to open a modern dialogue. Even Kreitzer’s one attempt for social commentary was unclear. The  brief movement piece at the beginning of the play in which the characters walked around stage staring into their phones and bumping into each other lost its meaning in the confusion of the script.

Kreitzer’s inability to write compelling dialogue for her characters shows in her incessant use of monologues. For a script with so little to say, the monologues occur with a surprisingly high frequency. Furthermore, Kreitzer’s play moves much too quickly between scenes too short and too abstract to convey multi-dimensional characters. As a result, the characters all fall into cliched tropes and stereotypes. Additionally, though the set and projection designers do their best to evoke location, the incredibly quick motion leaves the audience feeling unsure as to time and place, creating an unfortunately abstract world.

As a result of Kreitzer’s disappointing writing, the actors got short shifted in the production. Though they put forth an admirable effort, the script gives them hardly any material to go on. They fight to imbue their one-dimensional characters with more depth, but many of the lines ended up coming out flat and uninspiring.

Only exacerbating the already fragmented and unfocused script, the transitions between scenes add too much time onto the performance. For scenes that last barely a minute, transitions should have been shorter. Instead, lights fade to black and back up with no particular urgency while a song segment fades in and out. Since, for most transitions, there are no actual scenery changes, the light fades and songs seem unneccesary and take time that should have been used to further expand the characters through whatever means possible.

Despite the script’s disappointments, the projection design showed promise. There were four screens in Haugen, one on each wall of the room.  Since the stage was set up thrust-style with audiences on three quarters of the playing space, most of the screens were behind audience members, which ended up being less distracting than I expected. The projections were mainly static images with some short soundless videos divided between them, which were occasionally effective. I appreciated the video of a train speeding through a green countryside supporting a monologue in which a character daydreams about such a situation. Additionally, when Silva’s character in the play goes on her surprise trip to New Zealand and finds herself on the beach with a beach projection. I found the sunshine and blue light pouring over my shoulder effective as indicative of location. For one of the last scenes with Silva’s characters, in which she practices a native New Zealand art known as Poi, one of the screens displayed live capture video. Though I was unsure of the idea being communicated, it was an impressive advance in screen projection at St. Olaf.

 However, the screen projection fell flat in its use of supporting images. During many of the monologues, the screens simply parroted back ideas or images that the characters mentioned. For example, when a character mentioned that they felt something was missing, the screen behind them simply displayed a stock picture of a puzzle with one piece removed.  Or again when the same character mentioned their grandmother’s hands, an image of older hands appeared behind them. This use of projection sells itself short. Lighting and sound design ideally introduce some creative license of their own apart from their base requirement of reinforcing the performance, and projection possesses the same potential.

Overall the show, while boldly attempting to fit the script onto real bodies in a real space, failed to do so not entirely on its own merits, but rather those of the play. Often in a playwright’s career drafts are produced that never see continual performance not because of the playwright’s inability but simply because certain ideas either ferment too long or end up solidifying into something less compelling than intended. In this case, it is worth serious consideration whether “Be Here Now” fits into this category.

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A menu of upcoming theater this semester

Everyone knows that April showers bring May flowers. But here at Olaf, January gray days bring spring semester plays. Theater blossoms in spring on The Hill just as plentifully as flowers, and this spring is no exception. In fact, the selection of theatrical delights seems to grow continually as the weeks pass, and the menu contains something for everyone. Comedy, tragedy, really weird stuff that makes you feel cosmically unimportant – it’s all here. If I may, I’ll show you the specials.

1. Banana Sunday (“Krapp’s Last Tape” and “Rockaby”)

Who says you can’t start the meal with dessert? For the St. Olaf Theater Department’s spring show in Haugen Theater, Joanna McLarnan ’17 is directing two one-act plays by Samuel Beckett: “Krapp’s Last Tape” and “Rockaby,” and Beckett is quite a sugar rush. Expect bananas (no kidding, there will be bananas), ethereal visuals and provoking auditory experiences.

2. Nigiri Sushi (“Fresh Faces”)

In case you have not yet seen any first years this academic year, this is your chance. “Fresh Faces” is the chance for musical theater-inclined first years to show St. Olaf just how skillfully they can simultaneously sing and dance. Directed by Dario Villalobos ’18 and Gabby Dominique ’17 through DeepEnd, it’s guaranteed to be an inspiring performance.

3. Cheesy Grits (“August: Osage County”)

If the springtime is a little too sunny and relationships are going a little too well, maybe we all need to be reminded of life’s hardships. “August: Osage County” tells the story of a fractured Oklahoma family forced back together over a family death. But don’t let the gravity of the premise push you away. This award-winning play written by Tracy Letts and directed by the latest addition to the theater department faculty, Professor Michelle Gibbs, is not one to miss.

4. Chicken and Waffles (Quade One Act Festival)

Just like this classic soul food, the one acts of the Quade One Act Festival might not seem to go together at first look, but upon first taste they meld beautifully. This festival is the culminating project of the Intermediate Directing class, and there will be 11 one-acts of all kinds over three nights.

5. Steak Tartar (InBlack)

The talented members of InBlack write and perform their own original sketches. If you haven’t heard of them, waste no time in getting a ticket and finding a seat. Prepare yourself for a night of comedy and rebellious fun.

6. Caprese Salad (“Romeo vs. Juliet”)

Myswyken Salad Theater Company, the one and the same that performed “A Very Potter Musical” last semester, will be presenting an adapted version of “Romeo and Juliet.” I’ve heard there will be a sports team and cheerleaders involved.

7. Ghost Pepper Chili (“Bitch of Living”)

Becca Thavis ’17 will be directing this cabaret-style show in conjunction with the Wellness Center, tackling those elements of life that bring us all down. Laughing and crying are on the docket for the night.

8. Soup in a Bread Bowl (DeepEnd)

The oldest student-run theater company on campus, DeepEnd, offers student directors opportunities to produce shows. Though the shows have not yet been picked for the semester, keep an eye open for audition and show posters.

9. Spaghetti and Meatballs (Muse Project)

Muse Project is the newest theater company on campus, and has already successfully produced “Twelfth Night” and “Lysistrata.” The company is committed to magnifying female and femme-presenting voices onstage and off. Word has it that they are producing Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” so get ready to delve into more scansion and gender politics.

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Stage fright still affliction, despite experience

Now, dear reader, let’s get something straight. I am primarily an actor, and I have been acting continuously since I was 12 years old. One would think that after performing for nearly eight years, I would have grown out of the infamous feeling of stage fright. After all, I have faced that fear quite a few times. Shouldn’t I be past stage fright by now? Have I not achieved the level of adult maturity where I no longer feel any fear?

In case you missed the subtext here, I still get stage fright and I’m just a little bitter about it. As I’ve gotten older it actually seems to get worse. Stage fright doesn’t just happen during shows, though, let no one mistake. It really starts about a week or two before the show opens. Worries of missed entrances, forgotten lines and embarrassing costume malfunctions start appearing and floating through my head. Next comes the inevitable dream (or three, if the production is stressful enough) in which I wake up shaking in embarrassment after watching myself try to perform my role while totally naked.

Of course there then come the backstage jitters. In the few moments before entrances onto the stage, time always seems to be moving at the speed of both lighting and molasses. Suddenly that first line seems a lot more difficult to remember. That sweat that I can feel under my costume has got to be showing somewhere.

The third and most well-known stage fright comes when I finally get on stage. I would liken the feeling of walking on stage to cresting the hill on a rollercoaster. The pit that has been forming in my stomach before my entrance drops suddenly, and I can only think about the exact moment that I am in, nothing before or after.

I suppose one of the reasons that my stage fright has gotten worse is that my fear has only been affirmed by my experience. Missed entrances happen quite frequently, to varying degrees. I once had a fellow actor miss their entrance by a very long five minutes. Missed lines happen even more frequently, at least two or three times a show, if not much more.

Additionally, mishaps from the realms of projections, lights, sound, props and set pieces happen even more. On stage I’ve broken set pieces, accidentally kicked a wall in, torn expensive stage fabric, etc. Believe it or not, there is an incredibly large amount of things that can go wrong on a live stage.

The possibility of failure is always present on stage, in innumerable forms. Stage fright will never be gone, and it exists partially for good reason: to keep performers aware of their environment and constantly ready to solve problems.

I do find it funny, though, that even the most seasoned theater professionals experience stage fright. It’s an inescapable feeling. Try it sometime.

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Proposed SGA Constitution changes put to the vote

Representing diversity in theater

Earlier this semester, students in the Beginning Directing class – myself included – went to see “The Two Kids That Blow Shit Up” by Carla Ching, produced by Mu Performing Arts at the University of Minnesota. Our instructor for the class, Randy Reyes, directed the show and is currently Mu’s Artistic Director.

The show was incredibly well-done; Reyes’ direction and the actors’ performances impressed the entire class. The play depicts two Asian-American children, Diana and Max, whose parents cheat on their respective spouses with each other. Throughout the play, the narrative jumps between childhood, high school, college and early adulthood, reinforced by an imaginative and kinetic set filled with cardboard boxes.

In class discussion, Reyes pointed out to the class the really important reason for doing this play: that it depicts Asian-American individuals without expecting them to answer for the “Asian-American experience.” While the characters’ races clearly influenced their life and their experience of the world around them, the show did not focus on this alone. Rather, it was a story that had two Asian-American characters as the leads. This is not something that happens often enough. Often when minority actors are cast in plays, the only parts for them are grossly stereotyped or supporting roles. White men have dominated the industry since it began, leading to horrid under-representation of other experiences. Ching’s play is so important because it is at the head of a new movement to expand theater and finally represent minorities, women, non-heterosexual people and other-abled people in our theaters.

Thinking back through the plays I have acted in and helped to produce, an appallingly small number are not written by white men. Clearly this is something that needs to change. White men are not the only ones who have worthwhile shows to stage. Theater should belong to everyone, not just the ones in positions of higher power. That is why Twin Cities theaters like Mu Performing Arts and Penumbra Theater are so important. They do their best to represent Asian-American and African-American stories in ways that the theater industry simply has not before now. Support of these theater programs is vital to fostering an ethical and wholesome theater scene in the Twin Cities.

In the meantime, what can we do at St. Olaf to represent other stories? Since we are not a racially diverse campus, it is not always possible for us to truthfully and respectfully represent other races. However, we can strive to produce more work by women and non-heterosexual playwrights truthfully. In addition, bringing theater artists like Randy Reyes to campus helps theater students to receive different viewpoints and spread awareness of programs like Mu Performing Arts.

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Proposed SGA Constitution changes put to the vote