Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Troy "Page to Stage"

Subtitled 'Searching for the Creative Habit', Troy University's Page to Stage performance showcased the talents of some 37 actors, singers, and dancers under the tutelage of the department's creative team of faculty & staff.

The hour-and-a-half production played to an enthusiastic full house who witnessed scenes ranging from Classical Greek theatre to Shakespeare to Modern & Contemporary drama, and featured Troy's new concentration in Musical Theatre as well as its 40-year resident Children's Theatre troupe, the "Pied Pipers".

Actor and Artist in Residence, Quinton Cockrell, served as narrator to the numerous scenes, provided historical background to each, and confidently took the roles of the Stage Manager in "Our Town" and Oberon in Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream", thereby affording students the opportunity of learning their craft by sharing the stage with an experienced professional.

Continuing in the spirit of educational theatre, the audience -- largely comprised of other students enrolled in Theatre Appreciation classes -- witnessed the cast in an assortment of vocal and physical warm-up exercises, and even a quick rehearsal of a monologue. With the insightful narrative comments from Mr. Cockrell, perhaps they can now understand better the kinds of preparation that go into creating a polished performance, the hard work and discipline that make it look easy.

A key component to the educational intentions of the production is its entertainment value; after all, from the Greeks through till today, live theatre's purpose is to simultaneously instruct and entertain. Whether it is through the somber tones of masterfully controlled monologues -- Sarah Looney's Linda Loman from "Death of a Salesman", and Sarah Gill's impassioned Rose from "Fences", and Maurice McCoo's "Othello", and Caroline Franklin's depiction of Nora from "A Doll's House" riveted the audience's attention -- or the dazzlingly energetic choreography and singing of the "Musical Theatre Ensemble", or the clever antics of the "Pied Pipers" as they told the story of "The Three Little Pigs" [and the Big Bad Wolf], the audience experienced the wide range of theatrical possibilities.

The 'search for the creative habit' continued throughout the evening. Regularly shifting simple set pieces -- blocks, steps, ramps, frames -- showed the flexibility of an otherwise bare stage in creating both creative designs and movement possibilities. Lighting enhanced mood and location, and focused attention onto the important actor in a scene. And, since no naturalistically detailed sets or costumes distracted attention, the audience's focus had to be on the actor and the words.

Clear and articulate speech was also evident in the performances, and we saw them 'in training' before they performed. It is difficult at times to control volume, pace, energy, inflection, and projection when an actor is also emotionally engaged in the scene or physically active. And they must communicate the script's meanings while telling an interesting story, an exercise that this company showed well in control.

Yes, there are a lot of demands on the acting company and the design and technical staff of any production. The creative habits that take years of training and committment pay off in the end. -- Troy's theatre department gave a master class in theatre, a theatre that respects the text's words & ideas as well as the elements of staging that teach & entertain, which benefits us all.