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Friday, February 22nd
3:20 PM

Musical Theatre School Tour: Inspiring Students to Explore History in Their Own Backyards

Aimee Paxton
Jadd Davis

UC South Ballroom

3:20 PM - 3:35 PM

Theatre for Young Audiences (or TYA) is an artistic medium wherein adult actors present theatrical works geared for young people. It is important to distinguish that TYA is for children, rather than by children. Musical theatre uses a multitude of storytelling devices: script, lyrics, music and choreography. By employing such a multi-pronged approach, a TYA musical can thus reach children of differing sensibilities.

In our research we have found that the model of a TYA school tour provides access to students, particularly in rural areas, who seldom experience live theatre. Bringing the show to the schools is important, rather than forcing students to come to a physical theatre, where access may be impossible or impractical.

We have spent years working at the premiere TYA establishments in the Northwest and draw heavily from the philosophies espoused by flagship entities such as Seattle Children’s Theatre. We have tested the model with Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre’s “CST on the Road”, which we helped inaugurate in 2015. It is our goal to spread TYA theatre throughout the Northwest (and create an imitable model for other geographies) rooted in a sense of place. In our research, we have found that young people respond favorably to material about those places with which they are familiar, deriving greater value from their immediate locale. Our research aims to create an ever-growing catalogue of TYA musicals with specific historical and geographical contexts, while deepening our own skills as complete theatre-makers.

To this end, we have written the original touring musical, Gray Thunder, which centers on the historical figure of Mable Gray. In 1902, Gray became the first Official Fire Lookout in Western America (atop Bertha Hill, formerly known as Thunder Mountain, in Central Idaho). Mable Gray is an excellent subject for a historical musical because not much is known about her personal life. Thus, as writers we can fictionalize her relationships while addressing documented contextual facts about her life, creating a rich story to accompany the history lesson.

This medium offers an opportunity to encourage positive value structures, as students build empathy with the characters they see portrayed. In Gray Thunder and past work we introduce themes of kindness and compassion, anti-bullying, the value of nature, and what it means to be a family. Of particular note in Gray Thunder is the fact that the protagonist is a woman whose work was of considerable value in a culture dominated by men. It is important that young children of all gender identities hear stories from the past that are not simply from the male perspective.

Creating a historical musical requires months of research and constant collaboration, culminating in rehearsal and finally performance. Gray Thunder is about to begin rehearsals and will premiere on tour in Northern Idaho this winter.

This presentation will consist of a brief performance from the musical, accompanied by visual aids of the script in various stages of development, responses collected from students and teachers, and a vision for future TYA opportunities in the greater Missoula area.

3:40 PM

The Musical Collaboration of Tennessee Williams, Elia Kazan, Alex North in a Street Car named Desire

Peter Philips

UC South Ballroom

3:40 PM - 3:55 PM

In his Notebook Tennessee Williams wrote:

The experimental dramatist must find a method of presenting his passion in an articulate manner… my form is poetic [therefore]…a nonrealistic form must be chosen…[what] I call sculptural drama.

Sculptural drama, Williams’s hypothesis of “plastic theater,” implied the use of all stage resources, to generate a theatrical experience greater than realism. Only by using “other” transformative shapes could poetic imagination define truth, life, or reality.

My work aims to demonstrate music as a universal source of poetic truth. Williams, from his earliest writings, recognized the poetic expressionistic purity of music. Similar expressions are found in the philosophic writings of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Wagner. Through critical analysis of musical interludes in Williams’s plays and film adaptation, I demonstrate an ontological and aesthetic connection of Williams with these theoreticians.

For A Streetcar Named Desire and other Williams plays, scholar’s Nancy Tischler, Annette Davison, Brenda Murphy, C.W.E Bigsby and others have described the collaborative relationship between Williams, film director Elia Kazan, and music composer Alex North. A similar collaborative artistic philosophy of aesthetic artists remains undefined.

Alex North’s film score for Streetcar is considered a cinematic masterpiece. The collaborative team was familiar with New Orleans and the blues and jazz for which the city was famous. Williams had lived in the Vieux Carre frequenting many jazz clubs. Kazan filmed Panic in the Streets in New Orleans, North referred to jazz as “emotionally lowdown Basin Street blues—sad, glad, mad New Orleans jazz in terms of human beings.”

Kazan agreed with Williams choice of the blues as it relates to the protagonist Blanche’s “lonely abandoned soul.” In the film score, clarinet, drums, piano, and trumpet played arrangements of well-established standards. The blues/jazz music appeared to originate from the neighboring Four Duces bar, giving credence to scenic objectivity. The ghostly dance, the Varsouviana, played at the Blue Moon Casino the night Blanche’s husband died, was used for subjective effect, heard only by Blanche at moments of emotional crisis at mention of her late husband. Jazz elements emphasized a strong connection with Stanley, particularly in three scenes. Two scenes suggested the importance of sex in Stanley and Stella’s relationship. The rape scene underscored the potential for sexual violence when desire is unrestrained by morality.

Tennessee Williams's comprehension of the power of music is underscored by Alex North’s score which emphasizes Williams’s tragic and ambivalent characterizations of his protagonist anti-heroes. Williams’s anti-hero is embodied in Jungian psychology where the classic ideals of nobility, courage, and goodness are a priori within the individual collective unconscious. Schopenhauer sought to demonstrate the a priori nature of causality. Nietzsche termed music a primary expression of the essence of everything. Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk sought to unite the arts; music and fiction, dance and gesture. Williams included music to create atmosphere and define character throughout his entire literary canon. Is music, defined as “the purest form of art that embodied the Will itself,” the aesthetic philosophic connection of great artists?

4:00 PM

Gained in Translation: Storytelling Through Theatrical Innovation

Shane Lutz

UC South Ballroom

4:00 PM - 4:15 PM

As an artist, I am a challenger, a revolutionary, and an explorer - in no particular order. Swedish playwright August Strindberg believed that “society is so horribly regimented” in its obtuse ideas of art, resulting in a drastic stagnation of theatrical innovation. This remains as real today as it did when Strindberg flipped the theatrical tradition on its head in the late 19th Century. I believe that by deconstructing the ideals that have been ingrained into us in terms of what theatre can and cannot be, we can redefine an outdated and inaccessible art form to reach audiences across time and space.

During the Fall Semester of 2018, I began translating Woyzeck, the dark and expressionist play by German playwright Georg Buchner, before I took on directing the production in the spring with a debut in February of 2019. Written almost two-hundred years ago, Buchner calls attention in the inequalities of class and status through archetypal stock characters in a small Bavarian town. Despite its age, Woyzeck remains one of the most popular German plays ever produced with a successful international run in countless styles and artistic approaches. Its longevity speaks to the work’s ability to communicate the presence of injustice throughout the world in ways that overarchingly relate to all people in all places and all times.

The process of translation from Hoch Deutsch - a complex German dialect more commonly spoken in the Northern part of the country - came with excessive challenges. The German language, while serving as a predecessor of English, boasts a vocabulary with few English equivalents. We have no word for Innerer Shweinehund or Kummerspeck, which translate to “inner pig dog” and “grief bacon” respectively. Additionally, Hoch Deutsch uses filler words such as “doch” that simply do not translate into English grammar. Beyond the dictionaries, textbooks, and native speakers I went to for resources, the most valuable tool at my disposal was adaptation.

Throughout this project, I have explored the relationship between playwriting and directing in order to find the most successful avenue through which to tell a story. Woyzeck is a uniquely German script that enforces distance between the urgency of the piece and American audiences. My adaption of the original material and my work as a director in the rehearsal room focuses on breaking down these barriers, speaking to a place that is immediately here and now. To achieve this, I experimented with new approaches to theatrical innovation, including storytelling through the physicality of the body, evocative imagery, and conventions that serve to upend the expectations of the audience rather than enforce them. This opportunity to playfully test new styles and methods will serve as the foundation for my research as I continue through grad school.

While adaptation allows for greater exploration of method and material, it’s impossible to avoid changes and discrepancies between the new and original texts. After a brief analysis of my approach to building Woyzeck as a playwright and director, recruited actors will perform identical monologues from three separate versions of the play. This performance illustrates not only the different approaches with which each Woyzeck communicates, but also highlights the significance of having a new text that can reach audiences on a local and immediate level. A play that addresses inequality across societies should interact directly with the world it’s attempting to change, and this is the first time Woyzeck will do that with American audiences, isolating its scope to the microcosm of Missoula, Montana.

4:20 PM

Five Lil Birds: An Exploration of Depression and Anxiety Through Theatre

Elijah Fisher

UC South Ballroom

4:20 PM - 4:35 PM

Mental health is an issue that has risen to the top of our society’s discussion. Specifically, depression and anxiety are two conditions of mental health that many people deal with on some level or other. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), 18.1% of the US population deals with anxiety while 6.7% of the US population deals with depression which is 40 million adults and 16.1 million adults, respectively. In my experience, there is a large group of people around me that deal with either one or both. So, I wrote a play, Five Lil Birds, to explore the issues of depression and anxiety to help foster a dialogue between those affected and those not affected.

Five Lil Birds personifies depression and anxiety as characters in relation to one character, named Gertrude. In this play, there are also birds that examine what’s going on with Gertrude through dialogue and dance. In my early drafts, I only shared the play with a few people to get their feedback about how I could improve the piece. After revising the play and gaining confidence, I was able to organize an open-to-the-public reading where I gathered actors to read the play aloud for the first time in front of an audience. The audience included members of the faculty and students, both undergraduates and graduates. I had a helpful colleague of mine conduct a feedback session directly following the reading, so I could focus on taking in the feedback.

Like most large-scale problems, mental health is not an issue that will be solved with one conversation or discussion. There is no one person who has the answer, and we cannot stop talking about it. So, I will keep talking to people about it and researching more into organizations that specialize in the topic of mental health like ADAA or TWLOHA (To Write Love on Her Arms) and many more. This presentation will include a scene from the play where I will have actors to read the play aloud. I will also have an original song to share accompanied by some choreography that will be used in production as inspiration.

Moving further, I need to finalize a script that can be performed in front of an interested and willing audience. Once that script is finalized, I will share it with a director and producer who will help in guiding the process on the way to performance. First, we will need to pick a space on certain days to perform the piece. We will need to create a budget that allows for designers to get props, create costumes and build set pieces with some creative freedom. We will need to put together a creative team that consists of a choreographer, a dramaturg, an assistant director, and musicians as well as designers for props, costumes, lights and the set. As we start to assemble, we will cast an ensemble of actors to begin the rehearsal process (usually 5-6 weeks to performance). Then, through hard work plus theatre magic, this show will be ready to be presented to an audience at the University of Montana. At some point, the goal is to produce this play to make it available to the rest of America and humanity.