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The Trouble I’ve Seen

In Performance Reviews on February 27, 2013 at 8:12 pm

A Conversation with Meg Jones

          As the lights dimmed in Stratton Hall this past Monday, eager audience members looked toward the stage, waiting for the recital to begin. Much to their surprise, the opening lines were delivered from the back of the theater, sung in a deep and haunting contralto:

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen

Nobody knows my sorrow.

            Meg Jones came down the theater aisle in a meditative march, at last ascending the stage before stopping her song and taking the audience on a journey through the nature of human suffering.

Meg Jones: actress / performing artist

Meg Jones: actress / performing artist

            Meg Jones’s senior recital, The Trouble I’ve Seen, interlocks the stories of Job and three characters from the book Witness by Karen Hesse. Meg begins with the first chapter of Job, giving the scriptural account of Job’s incredible loss. Then she takes the audience center stage, where she portrays the interaction of three characters during the terrors brought by the Ku Klux Klan in 1924: Leanora Sutter, an African American girl; Esther Hirsh, a Jewish girl; and Sara Chickering, the woman who offered them both shelter from the Klan. All three experience the pain connected with racial discrimination and violent death. Meg Jones’s recital was no merely entertaining romp, but a deep-delving exploration of faith in the face of extreme suffering.

            I had the remarkable opportunity to interview Meg and ask her a few questions about how her recital came into being. When asked where she got the idea to do a recital centered around the theme of trouble, she said, “I want to do something that has to do with people’s perspective of what suffering is. It morphed from people looking from the outside to the inside and putting…ratings on people’s suffering…and after that I had, like, windows of different people and just different levels of suffering.” The “window” idea came after her coach, Anne Nolan, asked her to find a vehicle (a common thread) that would carry the theme across. Meg was leaving her dorm when she looked out a window in her stairwell, and had the idea to have every character “have a window, and the audience could see through their window…and they saw their suffering…some people’s windows are shattered and old and tattered while other people’s are colorful and beautiful on the outside and there’s dust and stuff on the inside.”

"The Trouble I've Seen"

“The Trouble I’ve Seen”

          While she started with having five separate stories in her recital, including an original composition and cuttings from The Hiding Place, she finally settled on just a cutting from The Witness and cuttings from Job.

          Meg Jones navigated the gripping tale with a commanding storytelling style, embracing both the narration and characterization with practiced precision. She transitioned gracefully from one character to the next, taking a meditative pace through the turns of the story. Her characterizations were nearly flawless: Leanora was sassy and cynical, Esther was innocent and cherubic, and Sara provided a stark adult perspective on the unfolding events. While Meg said that adopting Leanora and Sara came easily, performing Esther, with her muddled syntax and unique accent, was another story altogether.

          “At first I didn’t like her,” she told me, chuckling. “I liked her as a character; I just didn’t like performing her. She was just so hard for me at first. I don’t just have to act like a six-year old, but I have to act like a Jewish six-year old with an accent….I had to listen to some things on YouTube or just different people speaking Yiddish…as their home language, but they’re speaking in English and I wanted that accent of her—but I had to make it a little less mature that the grown-ups sounded….it was hard getting into that, but after a while, it became more natural to be her and then I didn’t hate it as much anymore. She was the most difficult to memorize because of the syntax….But in the end, she was the most enjoyable to perform.”

Senior Project for Performance Studies Degree

Senior Project for Performance Studies Degree

          The recital was not fast-paced, which may have disappointed a few audience members. However, a slow pace was absolutely necessary in order to stay true to the lyricism of the text and the heaviness of the material. The slower pace allowed the audience time to think about the ideas flowing through the narrative and to grasp the depth of what Meg hoped to communicate.

          “I wanted other people to see what our reactions are to other people’s suffering or our own suffering and I wanted them to see it through very real situations….I wanted them to see that even a child can see that the emotions you feel when you’re going through something like that are all human reactions…and knowing that although I’m going through this situation, it sums back up to God, that he is still there—and nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen, nobody knows but Jesus.”

by Emma GallowayIMG_8607

Breaking Down The Knot

In Play Reviews on February 18, 2013 at 7:52 pm

Break the Knot: A Review

On the campus of Bob Jones University, the most recent dramatic Vespers production presented the family drama Break the Knot. Vespers itself has become a bit of an enigma on this Protestant (and mostly Baptist) campus, since it has nothing to do with the traditionally Catholic practice of holding an evening prayer service. The recent focus on drama presentations in BJU Vespers has broadened the gap between these programs and the original purpose of “vespers.”

Break the Knot, however, takes a different course from the eccentricities of the past few Vespers drama productions. The script is an older one, originally premiering in 2007. While some may doubt that a six-year-old script is “old,” most of the Vespers scripts from the past two to three years have been brand new. In an academic setting, that’s nearly a full turnover rate of students who mark Break the Knot as a first “repeat” script. The summary of the plot and play, according to BJUPress, is that it is “[s]et in small-town New York in 1959. When his wife dies after a long illness, a father attempts to keep his family together. Grief-stricken and bitter, his eldest daughter struggles with a dark secret that hinders her relationship with both her earthly father and her heavenly Father.” Compared to the less linear scripts of the last year and a half or so, this one seems fairly cut and dry.

???? ??????, Jeff Stegall, and Becca Kaser respectively

Rebekah Nason, Jeff Stegall, and Becca Kaser respectively

The play gets its name from John Donne’s Holy Sonnet 14, which the main character’s younger sister quotes (in part) and an essay that she tinkers with throughout the first part of the play (apparently as part of her English homework). The sister, Joyce, opens the play by reading the first half of Donne’s opening line: “Batter my heart, three-person’d God…”  The rest of the poem, though given only piecemeal in the script, reads:

[F]or you
As yet but knock ; breathe, shine, and seek to mend ;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy ;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

"a father attempts to keep his family together."

“a father attempts to keep his family together.”

This “knot” that only Kate’s God can break is the series of events and trouble that Kate, the main character, has gotten into right up until the start of the play. Joyce discovers and confirms Kate’s frequent midnight flights from their home, and Joyce seems unsure of how to prevent her sister’s downward spiral. We learn slowly of some past issues Kate has had, as well as the current accusations made against her by Miss Vivian Price, her teacher who works at the same school that John, the girl’s father, is the basketball coach. Most of these issues, past and present, revolve around a boy on her father’s basketball team, and whether or not he is dating Kate. Once confronted by Joyce’s information, Kate admits to everything she has thus far denied – leading us directly into the core of the problematic knot. What remains after is to find out if and how this knot can be untied, and what strings must be cut in order to do so.

The first and the current productions of this play share several things besides the script itself: the set is nearly, if not completely, identical, and the costumes have all been replicated to the last detail and hairstyle. Jeffrey Stegall is also a shared element – he played John, the father, in the original production, and now fills both that role and that of director. For the 2013 production, Rebecca Kaser takes the role of Kate – playing under her age, though this age difference did not prove to be a stretch. Kaser has the fortune of a gregarious personality and youthful face that enables her to play above and below her age with ease. The same could easily be said of Jessica Bowers, currently a senior at the university, taking the role of Vivian Price – Kate’s teacher – switching their literal roles from offstage life. Deserving of special mention is Kris Miller, who does an admirable job with the admittedly deep and challenging role of Edna, the girl’s grandmother.

Kris Miller as Edna

Kris Miller as ‘Edna’

Edna tends to be the divisive character in the play – if played with even a trace of façade, she becomes each audience’s favorite part to complain about. On the page, Edna leans towards being a deus ex machina in a matronly sweater and loafers. She has the right answers, the right ways to go about giving them, and impeccable timing. What Miller managed to do is deliver Edna’s lines as a fully believable person – a little meddling, but good natured, and honestly trying to help. No promises – just life experiences, while embracing the quirks into a believable onstage human being. Edna makes the connection, if a little obviously, to the major analogy in the play: the correlation between Kate’s relationships with her father, John, and her Heavenly Father.   

 

The audience is left with few questions as to what they are supposed to learn, a stylistic choice for the limited intended audience and situation. Even though Break the Knot’s ending does seem to tie up in a neat, if still fragile, bow, the play’s resolution argues that occasionally, even in real life, disastrous knots can be turned into ordered ribbons. 

By Lindsay MorganBio_Shots-1

Designing Narnia

In Design on February 13, 2013 at 6:34 pm

Presenting an Old Land With a New Twist

When we were young, we always dreamed about visiting the magical world of Narnia. Instead of searching for monsters at night, we would search high and low in our closets for that gateway into another world. In the daytime we filled our hours talking with Aslan, having tea with Mr. Tumnus, and going on epic quests to vanquish the evil White Witch. What we lacked in reality we made up for in our extravagant imaginations.

 

However, some people have had the opportunity to take their imaginations of Narnia and make them into a reality. Callie Summer is one such lucky daughter of Eve. A senior Dramatic Production major at Bob Jones University, Summer has had a four-year dream of directing The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. After months of demanding work and countless hours collaborating with designers, she is able to see her dreams of Narnia come alive this week in the campus’ intimate theatre space, Performance Hall.

 

I had the opportunity of speaking with Callie Summer and a few of her designers to get an insider’s look at Summer’s overall vision and how that translated into the various elements of design. Having never done a production on this scale before, the young director said the project was a very big learning experience for her, but a time that she has enjoyed immensely. Collaborating with designers was also a first for her, but they were able to work together to create a cohesive whole and take a unique approach to this classic story.

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When asked about her overall vision for The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, Summer replied, “I wanted it to be a magical experience for the audience, [and] I wanted it to be more stylized.“ One of the first design elements to tackle was the costumes and the looming question of how to present the creatures of Narnia. Options were numerous, but the director knew immediately that in staying consistent with her vision, she did not want a BBC version mockup with full, furry animal costumes. So the long process began, with many twists, turns, and changes in the designs. In the end, the costumes became more suggestive in nature than definitively revealing, relying on color schemes to indicate the specific animals. Most of the creatures wore fairly normal ‘human’ clothing, such as the unicorn wearing a white shirt and pants with a checkered blue vest and Aslan wearing a shimmering, African-style brown and gold tunic with only a touch of rope-like fur around the shoulders of his coat. The actors then were left with more creative responsibility to show the audience what animal they were by their physicality and mannerisms.  The result was a delightful one for the most part, making some characters come alive even more through the hard work of the actors. Mr. and Mrs. Beaver for instance, dressed in shades of brown, became an endearing yet quirky English couple, with Mr. Beaver waving his pipe about and Mrs. Beaver fluttering around in her fur-collared coat.

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several unique costumes featured in this production

Though many directors and designers rely heavily on makeup to also help distinguish the creatures of Narnia from each other and the humans, the opposite was done in this production, taking cues from the costume designs. Talking about his inspiration for the animals, Makeup Designer Paul Jutras said, “What she [Summer] wanted to do was make them look like humans personified as a creature.” Because of this, the majority of the animals had normal, or straight, makeup. The only exceptions were Maugrim, the White Witch’s wolf captain, with a darkened face and shading around the eyes similar to a real wolf, and Aslan whose makeup consisted of yellow and gold highlighting on his face. Makeup was used the most in creating the character of the White Witch. With the creative input of his assistant, Meagan Jones, Jutras came up with the idea of having the Witch’s makeup transform throughout the duration of the play, showing her decline of power. The inspiration for this idea came from one of her lines in which she observes that everything is melting all around her. To show this, the Witch begins the show with a pristine, whitened face, but as Aslan advances and she begins to lose control, her makeup ‘melts’ and becomes darker. In the end at the final battle, the White Witch’s face is harsh and darkly contoured, showing her true, evil nature. The other unique use of makeup was giving distinction to the wood nymphs by tattooing branches on their arms and sides of their faces.

 

The last design element that helped distinguish this production from countless others was the lighting. Once again following Summer’s desire for a magical but stylized Narnia, Lighting Designer Brooke Waters used nearly all motivated lighting. The lights were controlled by and directly reflected the action of the play. One particularly effective moment was Mr. Tumnus’ attempt to kidnap Lucy. As she fell asleep to the lull of his music, the lights similarly grew sleepier, gradually dimming as the song advanced. However, when Tumnus could take no more of his deceit and cried out in anguish, the lights simultaneously snapped back to their former brightness, bringing Lucy and the audience instantly back into the action. Also, much like the transformation of the White Witch’s makeup, Waters initially bathes the world of Narnia in cool tones, reflecting the wintry effect of the Witch’s control over the land. As the action progresses though, the lights become warmer and warmer as Aslan enters the picture, growing to a fiery red background at Aslan’s death and the final battle. Specials (lights with a specific function besides area lighting) were used profusely in the production and consisted of almost half of the total hung lights. Even black lights made an appearance, as the White Witch’s glowing minions crawled through the aisles to the stage, hissing and screeching, creating a chilling atmosphere the audience will not soon forget.

creative uses of lighting

creative uses of lighting

Most theatre-goers put little thought into the hours of manual and creative work a production takes. They file into the theatre with high expectations, hoping to be amazed by something they’ve never quite seen before. The production team of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe certainly took this challenge head on, successfully mesmerizing the audience with a fresh new look at a magical land they hold so dear in their hearts.

DSC_0325By Janie Mayer

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe: A Review

In Play Reviews on February 13, 2013 at 6:30 pm

Cast Brings Magic of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia to BJU

Many classic memorabilia of childhood fantasy rings true with all audiences and C.S. Lewis’ beloved story, The Chronicles of Narnia. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, is one such classic which is remembered through the images of a lamppost, a wardrobe, talking animals, and child heroes led by a mighty lion.

The production of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe at Performance Hall from February 11-16th, directed by Callie Summer, brings that classic magic to its audience. The show highlights the journey of the four Pevensie children, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy (played by Matt Jones, Kaitlyn Chisholm, Patrick Beam and Elisa Chodan respectively), and their adventure through a wardrobe into a fantasy world that is in a heap of snow and of trouble with the evil Queen Jadis, aka The White Witch (Jill Iles). The Pevensies meet many delightful characters along the way and eventually they bow before the Great Lion Aslan (Caid Ferguson). Ultimately, the Witch is defeated and peace is restored to Narnia. The Pevensies return back to “Spare Oom” and are forever changed by their great adventure.

Patrick Beam as 'Edmund'
                    Patrick beam as ‘Edmond’

This quick summary partly characterizes the nature of the production. While the show is mostly classic and very entertaining, it is sometimes difficult to keep up with each scene as the characters rapidly moved from place to place in the story. The pacing is heavily based off of the adaption, which certainly had its weaknesses, but it does maintain high energy and excitement as we travel through Narnia.

The production smashingly delivers some favorite moments from the classic tale such as Lucy’s tea with Tumnus (Justin Snyder) and his beautiful flute song, the Witch’s seducing Edmund under her spell with Turkish Delight, and dinner at the Beavers’ dam.

Probably the most dramatic scene of the show is Aslan’s death at the Stone Table. With Broadway-esque flare, the Witch’s minions crawl out of the darkness. And by their colorful dancing, screeching, and howling (all in black lighting) they create a frightening yet fantastical space where we hate the evil but love the spectacle. Bravo to designers for how that moment is executed (no pun intended).

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Many of the characters give notable performances such as Tumnus, who has a lovely Scot-Irish accent and likeable persona, Mr. and Mrs. Beaver (Colton Beach and Lindsay Morgan) who humor the audience with his Englishman quirks and her flurrying about, and the White Witch who rules with her menace and beauty. Audience goers should expect more of an ensemble performance with the four Pevensie’s instead of individual ones. While each Pevensie has strong character moments, because of the rapid pacing, we mostly see them all together. Edmund has a bit more stage time with the White Witch and he delivers a solid performance of the annoying younger brother. Lucy also warms hearts with her sweet spirit and tender scenes with Tumnus and Aslan.

The set, like the play, is easily moved and fluid. Pieces are turned around, carried in and swept away by Wood Nymphs that dance and sway in between scenes (look for when they also double as stone statues!). The production is highly stylized especially through the costumes of the animal characters. Instead of full-blown reality, we are given glimpses of creatures represented by human actors.

Jill Iles as 'The White Witch'
                    Jill Iles as ‘The White Witch’

A special highlight for the production is the original music, composed by Caleb B. French and Ben Schaaf. It is a capturing element that soars throughout the show. The album is available for purchase online.

Purists might be disappointed by some textual changes from the book such as the Pevensies are crowned at the Beruna battlefield instead of at Cair Paravel and Father Christmas comes to the Beavers’ dam instead of meeting them on their journey.

Overall, the magic comes alive through the production and the audience can expect to see a Narnia they know with a few new interpretations and a quicker trip than usual.

DSC_0252By Meagan Ingersoll