by Paul Steffens
As apprentices at the Commonweal, our capstone project is the mounting of a full production in the spring. It is our chance to implement all of the knowledge and experience we gain throughout the time we spend working with the company. Each apprentice submitted several plays to the rest of the group for discussion. We then compiled a shortlist of one individual choice each and a 5th piece chosen by group consensus. This list was submitted to Hal Cropp, Executive Director, for consideration. Then the narrowing down process began to arrive at a final selection.
Here are the other plays on that shortlist we considered as well as some reasons why these plays didn’t make the cut.
The Shape of Things, by Neil LaBute, follows four college students through their developing relationships. The play calls into question the line between life and art and the morality of the choices we make. There is no doubt that this is a powerful piece, however, concerns were raised about what message the play leaves the audience with. We came to the conclusion that the play did not align completely with the Commonweal’s mission “to enrich the common good.”
Far Away, by Caryl Churchill, is the story of a family in the middle of a war between reality and itself. The play is a modern blend of absurdism and surrealism exploring the nature of truth and fear.The length of the play is too short for what was asked of us which raised several hurdles to overcome. Plus, the Theatre of the Absurd and Surreal can be extremely inaccessible to the uninitiated. Artistic complications and our desire to serve the community took us in a different direction.
The Frogs, by Aristophanes, follows the god Dionysus on a quest into the underworld to resurrect a playwright and save Athens from social disintegration. We wanted to bring our own voice to whatever show we selected. The idea was to use The Frogs as a jumping off point for exploration, with the final piece loosely resembling the original. Concerns over how the rehearsal process would work, casting, and thematic relevance to a modern audience proved the choice to be too broad and unfocused for what we needed our selection to be.
[Title of Show], by Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell, is a musical about writing a musical. It chronicles the ups and downs of the creative process as two sets of men and women work together trying to make it big on Broadway.The difficulties surrounding this consideration were largely technical. Because so many of our backgrounds include musical theatre, we hoped to be able to music direct ourselves. However, we were advised on the difficult nature of directing yourself, and cautioned against it.
At last, we come to our pièce de résistance. We’re happy to announce that the apprentice class has selected August Strindberg’s Miss Julie. The play follows the struggle between Miss Julie, a noble woman, and Jean, a family servant, as each vies to obtain their heart’s desire through, and perhaps at the expense, of the other.
We wanted a piece that allowed each of us to incorporate a part of who we are and what we can do that is so uniquely us. We’re updating the text, both to make it as accessible as possible, and so that we can incorporate some modern conventions of devising and movement. Our selection of a Strindberg piece should be apropos in facilitating critical discussion considering that Ibsen Fest follows shortly thereafter. We’re excited to be addressing themes that will be relevant to our audience and to ourselves.
Each one of us was passionate about every play that was brought to the table. Part of what we’re learning as apprentices is how to temper and shape that passion, especially working with a group towards a common goal. We hope you’re as thrilled as we are and we look forward to sharing the story with you.