While the pandemic has created numerous obstacles for the musical theatre department, it has not prevented socially-distanced and masked rehearsals and performances. Although performances this semester will not have live audiences, they still provide unique and innovative opportunities for students. Among the fall productions is one unlike any show performed in AU’s history.
Titled “Spoon River Anthology and Beyond,” students from the School of Music, Theatre and Dance are working with students in the cinema and media arts program to create a film including material from sources such as Edgar Lee Masters’s “Spoon River Anthology,” Shakespeare sonnets and plays, hymns, poems and the Bible.
Instead of actors receiving scripts and librettos to learn and memorize as per usual, they were tasked with finding material in the public domain they connected to and could form stories with, when combined with selected “Spoon River Anthology” monologues.
Assistant Director and junior musical theatre major Brady Day detailed what the play is becoming.
“‘Spoon River Anthology and Beyond’ is a devised piece,” said Day. “‘Spoon River Anthology’ itself is just a bunch of poems that somehow connect thematically or literally, but what makes this interesting is that we’re hand-picking these pieces that already exist to tell our own narrative. The other public domain pieces are added to bolster that narrative.”
Along with the show’s construction being incredibly unique, the rehearsal process has been uncommon as well.
“For most shows, your director hands you a script or libretto and says ‘learn this,’” said Day. “The road’s already paved for you—that hard work of the piece being developed and workshopped is already done for you. You just have to follow the path someone else has laid and see where you fit on that path. What makes this show difficult is that we are laying the path as we are walking it.”
Central themes within the “Spoon River Anthology” poems and stories include death, community, connection, ambition, love, legacy, perception and hope. While much of the material can seem quite bleak, hope remains a constant.
“Some people may only take away the dark, somber parts of the show, but if you look deeper you’ll find that there’s a lot more than just the bleakness,” said Day. “There’s a deconstruction and exploration of a lot of the things that we don’t want to talk about or are at arm’s-length width.”
One of the newest aspects of the performance is the heavy involvement of the cinema and media arts program. As the theatre industry evolves and adapts, filmed auditions and performances are becoming more common. This performance, along with the other shows in the season, allow students to evolve with the industry’s changes.
The “Spoon River Anthology and Beyond” film is slated to drop on Oct. 17, allowing “audience members” to watch from the comfort of their own homes.