Katie Cline, Editor-in-Chief
The show must go on.
That has been the attitude of the JSU Drama Department since the March 19 tornado devastated campus. The department’s home, Stone Center, was relatively unharmed by the winds and debris, but the building is still without phone and Internet access.
Nevertheless, the students, faculty and staff have been hard at work putting together three performances for the last three weeks of the semester.
The first performance will be Alpha Psi Omega’s (APO) production of “The Giver.” Based on Lois Lowry’s 1993 novel, Eric Coble’s stage adaptation follows 12-year-old Jonas and his friends Fiona and Asher as they attempt to defy their black-and-white society.
APO is the national theater honor society. Each year, the members of JSU’s chapter put on a mainstage production that is designed and performed by students. Graduating senior Alexis Robinson served as director for the show.
“We lost a week of rehearsal due to the storm, but compensated with cutting a few technical elements and moving the show dates back a week,” Robinson said. “I put a lot of my faith in my actors that they come back strong after such a long break. My cast and design team really pulled through for all of us and brought together a wonderful show despite the challenges we faced.”
Taking the stage in “The Giver” are new and old faces. Aaron Williams, who JSU theatregoers may recognize as Officer Brannigan from “Guys and Dolls” or Dr. Thomas Stockmann from “An Enemy of the People,” plays Jonas, a departure from his previous adult roles.
“Playing a child has been a real challenge, and something that I have never done before,” Williams said. “There is definitely a fine line between being absolutely ridiculous and authentically playing a child, and I think finding that has been the most difficult part.”
The titular character, the Giver, is portrayed by another drama veteran, Larry Mason, who has taken on such roles as Peter Stockmann in “An Enemy of the People” and Antonio in “The Tempest.”
(You can watch the full production of “The Tempest” here.)
The full cast includes Brooke Elam (Miranda, “The Tempest”) as Fiona/Rosemary and Eric Wilkerson (Nathan Detroit, “Guys and Dolls”) as Father, as well as students making their stage or speaking debut: Abbie Beatty as Mother/Chief Elder, Anna Marker as Lily and Noah Hudson as Asher.
“My favorite part about acting is probably really getting into my character,” Beatty, a freshman who had a non-speaking role in February’s production of “Guys and Dolls,” said, “When you play a character on stage, you get to react and do things as they would. It sounds kind of cheesy, but it’s like you get to escape your own world and live in theirs for a while. It’s also cool to see how every actor brings their own personality into their characters in a different way.”
Students also run the show behind the scenes, too. Graduating senior Meg McCrina designed the costumes while Elizabeth Neese and Shelby Washburn were responsible for the set and sound design respectively. Brandon Clark (Sky Masterson, “Guys and Dolls”) serves as assistant technical director; Ansley Gayton is the assistant producer and projections and sound board operator, and Cheyenne Oliver (Drunk, “Guys and Dolls”) will serve as stage manager. Oliver has stage managed several JSU productions such as “An Enemy of the People,” “The Tempest,” and “These Shining Lives.”
“This show has a message for everyone,” Robinson said. “I am so honored to get to direct such a wonderful piece with a message that rings true at any age. Avid fans of the book will see most of their favorite moments portrayed on stage and I hope that we will inspire a few new Lois Lowry fans as well.”
“It is a beautiful story and has a message that I think is relevant right now and is important for people to hear,” Beatty added. “It is powerful, emotional, and thought provoking and I think our audiences will really enjoy seeing this story come to life on stage.”
“The Giver” will run April 20 and 21 at 7:30 p.m. and April 21 at 2:30 p.m. on the Stone Center main stage. Tickets are $10.
The Country Co-ed
Because the department opted to condense the remainder of its season rather than cut a show, many of the students are pulling double or triple duty as the semester winds down.
“As for balance, yeah, I’ve had a lot of trouble recently,” Williams, who is starring in another JSU production, said. “Feeling stretched thin is underselling it, but you sort of have to get used to that in theatre. You can be working on three or four shows at once, and you’ve got to keep them all straight.”
As soon as the curtain falls on “The Giver,” Williams must prepare for his next leading role as Harry Horner in “The Country Co-ed,” a modern, racy and radical adaptation of “The Country Wife” by William Wycherley. The play was written and produced by the students of Dr. Michael Boynton’s Special Topics in Performance course and follows college students Horner and Dani Dickinson (played by Ebony Antoine-Hill) to see who can have the most sexual encounters by the end of homecoming weekend. This over-the-top sex comedy blends elements from the original restoration classic with those of contemporary cinematic comedies like “Animal House” and “Bridesmaids” to create one witty and raunchy production.
This show is only open to audience members ages 18 and up due to highly offensive language and crude topics. It will be performed Thursday, May 3 at 8 p.m. on the Stone Center main stage. Tickets are $5.
There will be one more performance of “The Country Co-ed” that Jacksonville audiences won’t be privy to.
Boynton and his class—who have named themselves the Flying Bling Theatre Ensemble (FBTE)—will take the stage at the Capital Fringe Festival in Washington, D.C. this July.
According to the organization’s website, “Capital Fringe is a catalyst for cultural and community development, and a destination that brings artists and audiences together. Capital Fringe thrives on amplifying the vibrancy of the DC’s independent arts community and enriches the lives of those who reside, work and visit here.”
The festival embraces “diversity and a spirit of independence” and aims to “challenge perceptions and shake up the hierarchy, to be brave and unafraid and to serve as a launching pad for unseasoned to existing theatre artists.”
“Hundreds of companies apply to perform [at Fringe] each year, and not many of them get accepted, so it’s a huge honor!” Williams said.
Lillian Paula Carson
The winner of the 2017 Southern Playwrights Competition will be presented as a workshop production on Tuesday, April 24 and Wednesday, April 25 at 7:30 p.m. in the Stone Center Studio Theater, Room 338.
“Lillian Paula Carson” is a play not about one woman, but about three. It focuses on a 1953 meeting between social activist Lillian Smith, her partner Paula Snelling, and Southern writer Carson McCullers.
Playwright John Barrow imagines how Smith, the best-selling author of “Strange Fruit” and a strong opponent of segregation; her partner, Snelling and McCullers, author of “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” and “The Member of the Wedding,” may have discussed the issues of justice, fame, commitment, love and mortality.
Barrow currently lives in New York City, but his southern roots are the setting for “Lillian Paula Carson.” The play is set in Clayton, Georgia, and Barrow grew up a few hours south in Cordele, Georgia.
Besides winning the Southern Playwrights Competition, Barrow has been awarded playwriting grants from the New York State Council on the Art and the Wisconsin Arts Board, and his plays have been performed on big and small stages alike, including New York, Nashville, Key West and Atlanta.
JSU’s production is centered on non-traditional casting and stars Ebony Antoine-Hill (General Cartwright, “Guys and Dolls”), Halima Kamara (Dorothy, “Dorthy Meets Alice”) and Chibuzo Harbor. It is directed by JSU’s technical director, Nick Hoenshell.
Stone Center is without Internet service at this time, so all ticket purchases must be made in the form of cash or checks. Tickets for “The Giver” and “Lillian Paula Carson” can be purchased online prior to the shows.