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Juniata Stages Minimalist 'Our Town,' Honoring Playwright's Intentions

(Posted February 21, 2011)

"Our Town" is at Rosenberger Auditorium in the Halbritter Center for the Performing Arts, Thursday, Feb. 24 through Sunday, Feb. 27. Tickets for the production are $7 for adults and $4 for students with I.D. Show times for the drama will be at 7:30 p.m. with a 1 p.m. matinee on Sunday, Feb. 27.

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- The turn-of-the-century fictional small town of Grover's Corners will come alive on the classic stage of Rosenberger Auditorium in the Halbritter Center for the Performing Arts as the theatre department of Juniata College stages "Our Town" from Thursday, Feb. 24 through Sunday, Feb. 27.

The play, directed by Andrew Belser, professor of theatre at Juniata, takes Thornton Wilder's homey, yet ultimately tragic, three-act production and places the intimate lives and hopes of the famous characters, George Gibbs and Emily Webb, into a minimalist landscape.

Tickets for the production are $7 for adults and $4 for students with I.D. Show times for the drama will be at 7:30 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, with a 1 p.m. matinee on Sunday, Feb. 27.

"In the script written by Thornton Wilder, he calls for a bare stage, but our production is going to use movement and miming techniques to give a sense that the people on stage are part of the fabric of the town," Belser explains. The Juniata production of Wilder's ode to small-town life will use movement and clowning techniques to depict how humans move through daily life.

The Juniata theatrical version of "Our Town" debuted in 2010 at Virginia Tech University, a production also directed by Belser. He explains that this vision of the Thornton Wilder classic intends to remove the stage experience from a specific period of time and present a more contemporary version that uses movement and music to conjure up the New England town of Grover's Corners.

"This kind of minimal set design and lighting is not radical at all now, but we want to show how stage and lighting designs have changed while absolutely staying true to the script and honoring the play."
Andrew Belser, professor of theatre

"Wilder really called for a blank slate on stage, which was very radical for its time." Belser says. "This kind of minimal set design and lighting is not radical at all now, but we want to show how stage and lighting designs have changed while absolutely staying true to the script and honoring the play."

In his notes for the production Belser wrote, "We are performing and receiving this piece under the same sky as people living in those times and our times are just as uncertain as then." He added, "This play is not about nostalgia, or the goodness of American life at the turn of the 20th century. In fact it's not about any sort of nostalgia. This play is about right now."

Members of The Gravity Project, a theatrical collaborative that combines teaching, collaborative creativity, and hands-on technical instruction between season theatre professionals and theatre students, have contributed professional expertise to the Juniata production. Belser also is the artisitic director of the project.

Kate Clarke, a founding member of The Gravity Project and assistant professor of theatre at Juniata, will take on the all-important role of the Stage Manager. She has been a member of the Gravity Project since 2007 and directed the college's production of "Angels in America" in October 2008. She earned a bachelor's degree in 1990 at Oberlin College and went on to earn a master's of fine arts degree in 2000 from the University of Washington. She has taught acting and other theatre classes at Tulane University in New Orleans, La. and at CUNY Hunter College. As an actress, she has appeared in such plays as "But I'm a Cheerleader," "Bitter Suite" and "Stop."

Rick Wamer, a mime performer and teacher, began studying miming nearly 30 years ago at the Goldston School for Mimes and now is artistic director of The School for Mime Theatre in Gambier, Ohio and Theatrical Mime Theatre in Tucson, Arizona. Wamer's work has taken him all over the world including performances held in Poland, China, Macedonia, and Israel. He also wrote and performs a one-man show, "Geometries: Performing Art Experiments by a Not-So Mathematical Genius."

Randy Ward, a professor of theatre at Virginia Tech and a founding member of the The Gravity Project, created the stage design. He has worked on many previous Juniata productions, including "Crispin: Cross of Lead," "Nine Gates," "Return" and "enrico4."

Lighting design for "Our Town" was created by John Ambrosone, an independent lighting designer and Gravity Project member. Ambrosone has worked on the Broadway production of David Mamet's "The Old Neighborhood" and has created designs for the American Repertory Theatre, Arena Stage, Long Wharf Theatre, Royal George Theatre of Chicago, Brooklyn Academy of Music and Coconut Grove Playhouse.

The Juniata Theatre students in the cast of "Our Town" are as follows: Brenna Frederickson, a junior from Fairfax Station, Va.; Andrew Orsie, a junior from Summit Point, W.Va.; Kevin Whitmire, a junior from Enola, Pa.; Susanne Makosky, a junior from Greensburg, Pa.; Ben Mahan, a sophomore from Havertown, Pa.; Sara Deppenbrook, a sophomore from Beaver Falls, Pa.; Benson Canfield, a junior from Littleton, N.H.; Jessi Haggerty-Denison, a freshman from Cooperstown, N.Y.; and Elizabeth Casey, a freshman from Landisville, Pa.

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.