International and fantastical
Carnegie Mellon’s School of Drama will put on three productions this semester. The shows — The Other Shore, Into the Woods, and The Mill on the Floss — represent a departure from traditional university plays by highlighting theatrical content that is both international in scope and fantastical in nature. As faculty directors and both undergraduate and graduate student designers and managers produce the works, the subject matter and execution of the plays are both powerful pieces of art as well as tangible representations of Carnegie Mellon student work.
The Other Shore, a play written by Gao Xingjian in 1986 and originally intended to be produced by the Beijing People’s Art Theater, will be the first large-scale production put on by the School of Drama this season. Directed by Tang Shu Wing, it runs from Oct. 2 to 11 in the Philip Chosky Theater. It was designed as more of an acting exercise and training tool than as a production intended to be shown in front of an audience. The drama details ideas of both collectivism and independence as it follows seekers of Nirvana, the land of enlightenment in Buddhism, who end up discovering that Nirvana may not actually exist.
The theoretical nature of this play is mirrored in the production process for the play, which production manager and senior drama student Maddie Regan describes as “free-flowing” and “developmental.” Based on Chinese theatrical styles and an emphasis on the actors rather than just on the content of the play, The Other Shore is likely to be a learning experience for viewers, actors, designers, and managers alike. “It follows a much more organic process than what we are typically used to,” Brandon D. Mitchell, the show’s lighting designer, said in explaining the process of production. It evolves as rehearsals go on, allowing designers and actors to work off of each others’ ideas and to create a unique experience for the audience.
Moreover, “the play reflects a truly foreign design culture,” said Katherine Stebbins, the show’s costume designer and a costume design MFA candidate in the School of Drama. That is, since director Tang Shu Wing is Chinese and familiar with the culture in which Gao Xingjian wrote the play, he has brought an element of understanding to the piece that will better engage both actors and audience members. It is because the play weaves such foreign culture into a localized and constantly changing production process that it is so unique and important for the student body to see, as several managers and designers of the show have explained.
The second of the semester’s plays, Into the Woods, is based on a book by James Lapine. Directed by Kent Gash, it runs in the Chosky Theater from Nov. 13 to 22. The work references a handful of well-known stories, such as Rapunzel, Cinderella, Jack the Giant-Slayer, and Little Red Riding Hood, as several of the main characters are said to mimic the main characters of these tales. Into the Woods also highlights the work of musician and lyricist Stephen Sondheim as it explores themes of parenting and raising children, accepting responsibility, morality, and wish fulfillment and related consequences.
It is the musical theater-based, collaborative nature of the production that makes it especially important for the campus community to see, argues Hidenori Nakajo, Into the Woods’ sound designer and a master’s student in the School of Drama. Moreover, because the show combines playful plot elements from well-known children’s stories with advanced musical and theater design work, these elements “beautifully [interact] to project the main theme[s] of the show.”
The Mill on the Floss, the third and final show of the fall semester, is similar to Into the Woods in its ability to explain complex and contradictory themes, yet distinct in its subject matter. The School of Drama’s Dec. 3 to 6 production follows Helen Edmundson’s theatricalization of George Eliot’s 19th-century novel, which presents ideas of determinism, free will, and where an unconventional woman fits into a repressive rural society in the 1800s. It follows the challenges of central character Maggie Tulliver, a woman who is punished for her unconventionality. Directed by Dana Friedman and scheduled to run in the Helen Wayne Rauh Studio Theater in the Purnell Center for the Arts, The Mill on the Floss is a stylized play rather than more of a movement- or musically-based show like The Other Shore and Into the Woods, respectively.
The Mill on the Floss details issues of love, controversy, and selflessness, all of which are relevant to both a 19th-century audience as well as one on Carnegie Mellon’s campus today.