FloArts presents The Actors’ Project: An Evening of Absurdity in Two One-Act Plays
The worlds of absurdity and comedy come together in an interactive arena setting in the studio theatre at the Florida School of the Arts, located on the St. Johns River State College Palatka campus, from March 24-27. The Actors’ Project: An Evening of Absurdity in Two One-Act Plays, “The Bald Soprano” by Eugène Ionesco and “The Actor’s Nightmare” by Christopher Durang, presents a style that “gets back to the roots of theatre,” according to Robert O’Leary, FloArts scenic design professor. “The ability for the audience to not have everything handed to them, but to imagine with us, is a big part of this style of theatre,” he explained. Admission is free to the public, and show times are at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, March 24 to Saturday, March 26, and at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 27. Seating is limited. Patrons are encouraged to make reservations by calling 386-312-4300.
According to play director Patricia Crotty, "Both plays are from the style known as absurdism, which tends to address our need as human beings for there to be logic and order to the world. Absurdism questions that concept and somewhat dumps us into a situation where things don't necessarily make sense. ‘What is that? Why did they do that?’ That's what we're playing with,” she explained. “The absurdist playwrights play around with our impulse to put meaning to everything and have structure and order at all times, and they try to point out that sometimes life is just a little chaotic and absurd.”
Crotty warns that while these plays are funny and interactive, there will be plenty doses of silliness and nonsense, along with darker content at times. This style of performing, she said, was developed post World War ll.
The Bald Soprano
The famous “The Bald Soprano,” which came to the stage around 1950, “is referred to as an anti-play, and is thought of as the first recognizable absurdist play, the first one that was ever labeled as such for the genre,” Crotty explained.
lonesco, who spoke French and was studying English as a second language, playfully explores the ways in which we use language, and the concept that we can live with someone and not know them, Crotty stated. “In ‘The Bald Soprano,’ “lonesco takes that to an absurd point.” For instance, there's a husband and wife in the play who do not even recognize each other and then discover that they're married. “It seems absurd,” Crotty noted, “but lonesco is playing around with the idea that we can actually live side by side and really not know each other. That's what the absurdists do; they push through reality to a hyper-ridiculous version of reality, which in some ways feels true.”
The play offers a great deal of participation between the actors and the audience, Crotty reiterated. “It's not necessarily everybody's cup of tea because of the silliness and nonsense, but our version is very interactive.” This style provides a different experience for the actors, because “there's a very different kind of relationship between the audience and the actor in a large theatre,” Crotty explained. “In the black box environment, everyone’s right there, therefore, it's much more intimate, and this kind of material is easier to absorb in an intimate setting. To me, that's what live theatre is all about, the actor-audience relationship. The closer the audience is to the actors, the stronger the connection.”
The Actor’s Nightmare
In “The Actor's Nightmare,” Durang, a second or third generation absurdist, is a more contemporary playwright. Written in 1981, Durang uses this play to explore something that really happens to actors. Crotty said that just about every theatre person has the recurring nightmare that they’re in a show but didn't rehearse it. Durang uses that metaphor to make a commentary about life. Crotty gave the example of George, the play’s main character, who is expected by everyone to know what he's supposed to do. However, “he doesn't even think he's an actor,” she said, “so he keeps trying to learn his lines, and the play keeps changing, which is a common metaphor for the way life is for us.”
Crotty explained that when actors are creating a character for a realistic play, they know the beginning, the middle and the end. However, “here,” she said, “we see the character scrambling around, not being able to figure out the play. And as soon as he thinks he knows the play he's in, it changes.” Adding to that concept, Emily Vaughn, costume design student for “The Actor’s Nightmare,” stated, “It seems weird, but in a dream it makes sense. These nightmares make sense in the context of what they are.”
Is this play appropriate for children?
According to Crotty, there’s nothing in this two-hour performance (that includes an intermission), “that would be not family-friendly, although little children might find the content too wordy and become restless.” She said the material is intellectual, philosophical, and fast-paced, and she recalled loving “this kind of stuff” when she was about nine or 10 years old, although this may not typically be the case for children this age.
Growth for students
Depending on the skill sets of the students, absurdism provides them the challenge of doing something opposite from what they’ve previously explored. According to Crotty, the cast has fallen in love with this style, which has come easily to them. In fact, second-year student Kassidy Canova, of Tallahassee, began with the director’s assistant role and was soon promoted to co-director. “She really clicked with this style,” Crotty explained. “She has a very good eye and began directing more and more as things went on. It was nice to step back and let her do that and watch her interact at the design meetings.” Since Canova, an actor, had not previously been on that backstage side of the process, witnessing her dialogue with the designers was a real treat for Crotty.
For O’Leary, “it's interesting to watch student designers figure out how to let a play inhabit a space.” For this play, he said what's really interesting is that with audience seating available on all four sides, “it's not just the actors inhabiting a space, but it's the audience inhabiting the space with the actors.” O’Leary stated that this environment is perfect for these two kinds of plays and presents the opportunity for students to talk about this process, including differences in movement patterns and lighting in this kind of space, in class. He said it’s beneficial for the students “to have to challenge themselves to think about things from every side, because they're so used to that division between themselves and the audience” in the main stage performances.
Just as it was special to Crotty to watch her assistant get promoted to co-director, O’Leary appreciates how the school year builds everyone as a team. “They have to learn how to collaborate, through enduring long hours and such,” he explained. “So, as we step into this particular project and people begin switching roles, I love getting to watch some of the younger students peer lead some of the older students and the older students allowing that to happen, which is tough sometimes. Watching people figure out how to lead in order to get the art that they're seeking is one of the things I love about this particular project,” he added. About the students who were hard at work in the studio theatre, O’Leary said, “They're really trying hard to hit their mark. They're going to work late this evening. They're invested.”
All the sound effects will be done live by the actors. “They're creating them with a variety of sound effect props that Rob has provided,” Crotty explained. “It's not recorded, and it’s fun for the audience to experience not just hearing the sound effect, but actually seeing it created.”
Searcy Holley, from Tallahassee, is grateful for the rare opportunity he has received from The Actors’ Project. "For this show, I have to design the atmosphere and how each scene is going to look visually for the audience, he explained. When asked if that’s challenging, he replied, “Very much so, because this is my very first collegiate lighting design. Since it's an arena theatre, I have to design it in a way that people can see on all four sides of the actor, which is different from doing it on a main stage.” Holley believes this experience will be significantly beneficial for this future career. “It's a rare chance that a freshman like me would be able to design in an arena theatre, so just knowing how to design in an arena will help me get plenty of jobs down the road and be prepared for a lot of different obstacles,” he stated.
Johan Gallardo, a first-year costume design student from Hialeah, has been happily designing the pieces for “The Bald Soprano.” “It’s definitely a challenge having to dress characters in lonesco’s absurd play,” he said. “It's not straightforward, but it's absolutely rewarding and so much fun.” Gallardo shared that the four main characters in “The Bald Soprano” will be set in the early turn of the century, around 1905 - 1912. “It's going to be beautiful gowns for the ladies, well-tailored suits for the men. The maid, the fire chief and the four stage direction characters will be based off of silent film characters, so expect high comedy and a black and white world,” he stated.
Vaughn, a second-year costume design student from Jacksonville who has been getting costumes ready for “The Actor's Nightmare,” said, “I've been trying to keep the detail in the very much dream-like state of the play.” Explaining that “The Actor’s Nightmare” is so appropriately named, Vaughn stated, “You don't know what play you're in, you don't know what role you’re playing, and there's a lot of different plays within this one play.” The costumes are aligned with the period in which the plays are set, and for the color scheme, Vaughn said she’s “drawing from a lot of rich blues and greens and little pops of red,” as best she can.
Vaughn chatted as she reworked a Renaissance dress, adding that what’s most rewarding for her about this process is “finding ways to make something work if it didn't initially.” She also enjoys all the new things she has learned within her costume-design studies, such as wig ventilating -- constructing wigs, and moustaches, too.
Traditional and Absurd Setting
Student Anthony Antunez, a second-year student from Miami, is wearing several hats for this performance. He’s one of the scenic designers, the direction stage manager, and a properties manager. These roles require him to switch gears, from thinking creatively to simply living in information mode.
“We made a world for the plays to live in,” said Antunez. “Both of our plays are different, and because no particular setting was specified, we had to figure out a way to wrap our story inside of a world. The whole canvas of the set is in the sky in the clouds. Because two different plays are joined together, we wanted to have the audience and one of the characters fall through into the next play, so we set it in the sky.” Antunez credited Vaughn for that idea. He also credited Crotty for the concept of the setting, “living in the art” of Belgian Surrealist artist René Magritte. “We based it on his works,” he stated. For example, the first play is set inside a traditional household with “the whole weird factor, such as a table shaped like an apple, blended in.” Antunez described “massive panels” that have been mounted on all four walls in the black box, with symbols and popular pieces from Magritte’s work set on them, because he plays a lot between reality and the absurd.”
The Cast and Production Staff
Directors, Kassidy Canova and Patricia Crotty; Scenic Design, Anthony Antunez, Luis Colon and Shannon O’Leary. Lighting Design, Searcy Holley.
“The Bald Soprano” -- Costume Design, J. H. Gallardo; Stage Manager, Anthony Antunez.
Cast: Janae Donawa, Brittni Garcia, Martin Hamilton, Emma Kriausky, Brandon Mayes, Bethany McLain, Victoria O’Dell, Brianna Osmond, Ritchie Rodriguez and Marc Anthony Toro.
“The Actor’s Nightmare” -- Costume Design, Emily Vaughn; Stage Manager, Angel Warren.
Cast: Michael Baker, Devin Fuentes, Brittni Garcia, Martin Hamilton, Megan Lee, Brandon Mayes, Victoria O’Dell, Brianna Osmond and Rosvic Siason.
Production Stage Manager, Anthony Antunez; Costume Faculty Supervisor, Emily Strickland; Faculty Supervisor for Scenic/Lighting Design, Robert W. O’Leary; Scene Shop Supervisor and Staff Technical Director, Doug Brown; Costume Shop Manager, Tracy Floyd; Assistant Stage Managers, Alicia Hill and Megan Leclair; Sound Engineer, Savannah Healy; Properties Masters, Todd Allen and W. Chris Gaston; Master Electrician, Ashlee Philpott; Paint Charge, Savannah Healy and Luis Colon; Light Board Operator, Alicia Hill; Sound Board Operators, Angel Warren and Anthony Antunez; Properties Construction, Searcy Holley, Todd Allen, W. Chris Gaston, Kylee Risdon and Luis Colon; Carpenters, Painters and Electricians: Jason Correia, Ashlee Philpott, Anthony Antunez, Searcy Holley, Luis Colon, Katie Blaylock, W. Chris Gaston, Michael Baker, Willie Beaton II, Victoria Blair, Jibri DuRant, Anna Guzman, Samuel Alvarado, Tatiyana Firth, Brett Glisson, Emma Kriausky, William Larson, Megan Leclair and Billy Williams; Costume Construction Crew: Katy Page, Angel Warren, Rachel Allen, Emily Vaughn, Mitchell Collins, J. H. Gallardo, Alex Negron, Alyssa Marie Clarke, Alexa Williams, Brittni Garcia, Megan Lee, Brandon Mayes, Brendan Fogarty, Ilana Gould, Bella Carlsen, Briar Boggs and Autumn Osler. Wardrobe Head, Rachel Allen; Dresser, Mitchell Collins; Program Design, Alain Hentschel; Understudies: Michael Baker, Rosvic Siason, Martin Hamilton, Brianna Osmond, Kassidy Canova, Ritchie Rodriguez, Caitlin Charrier and Alicia Hill.
Florida School of the Arts students Brandon Mayes and Brittni Garcia rehearse for the upcoming play, “The Actor’s Project – An Evening of Absurdity in Two One-Act Plays.” The play runs March 24-27.
Florida School of the Arts students, from left, Brianna Osmond, Martin Hamilton and Victoria O’Dell rehearse for the upcoming play, “The Actor’s Project – An Evening of Absurdity in Two One-Act Plays.” The play runs March 24-27.