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Incorporating the Chilean Experience into a Theatrical Analysis and Design of Ariel Dorfman’s play Death and the Maiden

Hannah Gibbs

Ariel Dorfman wrote Death and the Maiden in response to his return to Chile in 1990, when the Pinochet dictatorship was replaced by a democratic vote. The play is full of complex issues- democracy, love, betrayal, deception, and justice for past wrongs. In reading Death and the Maiden, it’s hard to not be curious about the past terrors endured by the main character Paulina, and how the society she is in developed around those and other tragedies. Thus, examining the horrors of Pinochet administration inflicted onto Chilean citizens and how it informed this play and its three main characters. With that examination, I will then set forth my own ideas on how this play could be produced for an American audience in current times. A production of Death and the Maiden would be a provocative exploration fitting for our current times, as we as a country move through tumultuous and unprecedented political and historical events, and we struggle to grasp how they may affect our nation’s future. Often to gain an understanding of the location and time period in a play, you have to understand the clues given in the script. Throughout Death and the Maiden, there is no explicit mention of where these events are taking place, other than the mention that it is set in Paulina and Gerardo Escobar’s beach home. Through an examination of events the Escobars have gone through in their pasts, including but not limited to: the imprisonment and torture Paulina endured in 1975, as well as the prompt introduction of a brand-new truth commission in the first scene of the play- we can infer the undisclosed location of this play is Chile, in 1990. During the Pinochet era (1973-90), Chileans were often forced into silence about their socialist beliefs to avoid being imprisoned or killed by the state. Their recollections of the early 1970s and the effects of the administration are deeply tainted and skewed by the time they reached 1990. Throughout this time, there was an era of censorship and silence - words could take on a restrictive and horrific significance. Paulina’s experiences mirror these events, and they also inform how the other characters, Gerardo and Roberto, exist in this play’s world. Through my examination of these characters, I will use their experiences and ideas to construct my vision of the setting of this play - the Escobar’s beach home - with my own scenic and lighting designs. While this play has been produced regularly since its world premiere in 1991, I find the unique political lens of America in 2020 and 2021 will allow for a novel design experience of how to portray the survival of extreme political ideologies and the outcomes of those ideologies coming to power in a society like our own.

Media Overload: A Sonic Artwork Depicting Our Media Landscape

Cole Grant

This piece was created as a reaction to the constant connectivity and barrage of content we experience on a daily basis.

These days, anyone with a smartphone or television is bombarded with involuntary information, be it an ad embedded within an app or the 24-hour news cycle. Over time, we become unable to process all the data that's thrown at us, resulting in what's called information overload.

“Information overload arises when the information individuals assess exceeds their ability to accommodate and handle it (Farhoomand & Drury, 2002). The concept of information overload compares ones’ personal information processing ability with information processing demands. In the era of mobile Internet, users are forced to handle too much information.” [1]

This sonic artwork, Media Overload, brings you inside the head of someone who is overwhelmed by this cascade of information, and shows how that person overcomes their anxiety. This is important, because I believe the effects of constant media engagement are understated, and the negative effects can be easily ignored. Sonically illustrating this process is a visceral and unique way to present this reaction to the media landscape.

This narrative based sound walk is a departure from the musical based looping and composition I’m used to creating. Although musical considerations were present while composing this piece, the artistic process here was more attuned to creating a concrete storyline rather than simply inserting what musical element would sound appropriate, the latter of which is most common in my artwork.

To accomplish this I gathered sounds from radio broadcasts and social media feeds, then arranged them in disorienting and overwhelming ways. I then connected those sections with a concrete storyline utilizing self-recorded foley sounds, and concluded the piece with original music. This ending aims to show the listener the positive effects of actively creating rather than passively ingesting.

As a society, we've normalized things like immediately checking our phone when we feel a buzz in our pocket and endlessly scrolling through social media. Culturally, it's important to recognize that these are brand new reflexes, and to be cognizant of when we participate in such actions. This sonic artwork aims to bring awareness to these new societal developments.

[1] Fu, Shaoxiong, Hongxiu Li, Yong Liu, Henri Pirkkalainen, and Markus Salo. 2020. "Social Media Overload, Exhaustion, and use Discontinuance: Examining the Effects of Information Overload, System Feature Overload, and Social Overload." Information Processing & Management (6).

Mother Courage 2021: Making Art in the Age of Coronavirus

Shane Bridger Lutz, University of Montana, Missoula

The force of the coronavirus pandemic found American theatres and artistic venues shuttered and closed - indefinitely - for business. The need to limit social contact implored the performance community to cease all activities that could bring virus exposure to the cast, the crew, and the audiences they serve. However, like a bird must sing to be a bird, artists must make art. The standards for theatre have radically changed in the months since the pandemic started, and not only do rehearsals require a fresh set of safety protocols, but the entire artistic process must be examined in order to resume our work in a safe, smart, and fulfilling way.

As a student in my final year of the Directing MFA in the School of Theatre & Dance, I will be directing Mother Courage & Her Children, a German anti-capitalist play from World War II that resonates with a global society coping with how to navigate, address, and improve the world we now find ourselves in. While most plays in the country - and all the performances at the University of Montana - have taken place via zoom since COVID-19 struck, Mother Courage will be rehearsed in-person, filmed, and streamed online. Not only does this approach alleviate any fears of audiences catching the coronavirus, but I have also created a thorough and complete set of regulations to maintain social distancing, incorporate masks into the story of the play, and other tactics to make meaningful art amidst a brand new normal. This sets our production apart in its simultaneous bravery and deep commitment to safety as theatremakers around the globe are forced to put all their projects on hold for the foreseeable future and even beyond.

While our implemented health protocols addressed the personal aspect of directing a show, the way in which a performance is traditionally created and constructed has become unsustainable in a room where actors can never get closer than six - and sometimes twelve - feet. On top of Mother Courage exploring a radically experimental style that acts as a departure from traditional theatre, I have accentuated its bold stance in developing a new directing technique that accommodates the challenges imposed by COVID-19 and also offers a roadmap for taking a play from the page to the stage during a pandemic. By exploring new methods of creating and bringing live theatre to audiences, we are adapting to the times as artists have done for centuries before us. This production’s meticulous documentation and resources will serve as a specific and clearly-outlined technique that can be applied to any professional performance, academic program, acting troupe, or group of eager theatremakers who strive to safely and effectively make art for audiences everywhere. For the arts, there is no going back to the way things were before, and so this era necessitates the creation of a new theatre for a new world.

SCREAMIN' FROM THE ZOO (A Preview)

Elijah Jalil Paz Fisher, University of Montana, Missoula

SCREAMIN’ FROM THE ZOO (SFTZ) is a one-person, Neo-Spiritual developed through SoulWork for partial fulfillment of my Final Creative Project (FCP) as a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) Acting Candidate with the University of Montana School of Theatre & Dance. Throughout the show, I share a capella songs, spoken word, and theatrical dialogue to explore stillness, hope, change, pain, freedom, grief, empowerment, joy and further within myself all in a search for what it means to have Soul. In the words of Dr. Cristal Chanelle Truscott, “Defining Soul is a mind-bending, elusive exercise.” Dr. Truscott is the practitioner who has developed and published the method called SoulWork that I have been obsessed with since my discovery during my Studio III Acting class during the Fall semester of 2020. SoulWork is meant and documented as an ensemble practice, but the existing restrictions of COVID-19 challenged me to develop a version that allows for solo practice. I came across SoulWork in the Black Acting Methods textbook and became engrossed as it helped me begin to discover my own alignments as a social justice artist in words that I struggled to find in the past. SoulWork is based on four principles: Intention: The Call, Living in the Call and Response, Emotional Availability and the Unending Climax, and The Dream. Since the document begins with an extensive, non-exhuastive list of artists that Dr. Truscott considers to have Soul like Nina Simone, Otis Redding and Billie Holliday, I began to develop a fifth principle that comes before the first called “Listen” that is now integrated as part of SFTZ. As part of this principle, I have curated a musical playlist that exists to help me understand Soul more deeply as well as discover Soul in more present-day artists, and I listen to it daily. While the document itself is largely philosophical, I unlocked new ways of understanding within myself through poetic explorations of the rich definitions presented by Dr. Truscott. In the document, she defines Neo-Spiritual as “an a capella musical created consciously, methodologically, and specifically through the lens of African-American performance traditions.” With this as my base, I feel as though I have been able to launch into my creative process with a stronger sense of identity and purpose. My goal has been to create a compelling, one-person show that I will be able to walk into any space, alone, share the piece, and leave a lasting impact along the way. In this presentation, I intend to create an experience by sharing my discoveries through practice as research, excerpts of the show that highlight the themes, and a self-produced video trailer. Looking forward this show will premiere as part of the School of Theatre & Dance Studio Series during the month of March. Upon completion of my degree, I plan to continue developing the show as part of my repertoire as a self-sufficient artist to perform everywhere and anywhere that is willing to witness.