Calling all planes!

By Rinjisha Roy

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From left: Mike Nappi, Onur Alakavuklar, Aaron Chandler, and Benjamin Smith. Scenic design by David Wade in Bloomington Playwrights’ Project’s CALLING ALL KATES

On a stormy Thursday night, an aeroplane was seen coming in for a landing in Bloomington. Wait a minute – the airport’s over on the west side! So where was it going? Well, here’s what I can tell you – if you visit Bloomington Playwrights Project between now and April 15th, you can see for yourself!

BPP’s current production, Calling All Kates, is a delightful musical set ON an aeroplane, featuring the pilot and his crew as musicians! The plane is where two strangers, Marc and Kate, meet and set out together on a world tour. Through scary encounters in caves, and exciting adventures in foreign lands like Paris and Tokyo, the two navigate between worlds to ultimately find strength and comfort in each other, making their relationship a lasting one.

Having watched the play myself, I was impressed not just by the story, but also the way it was delivered to audiences. From musicians who play a variety of roles to adding special effects in recreating starry night skies in faraway lands, the musical promises fun and lively entertainment to anyone seeking respite after a long, hectic week.

And, of course, if you still haven’t gotten your fill of flight, head over to IU Theatre’s upcoming production The Drowsy Chaperone, where this musical-within-a-musical also features a plane that “lands” on stage!

Since these aeronautical wonders are only in town for a short while, make sure you find them at Bloomington Playwrights Project’s Calling All Kates, with shows at 7.30pm April 6th through 8th,  and April 13th through 15th. And IU Theatre’s The Drowsy Chaperone, coming to the Ruth N. Halls Theatre April 14th-22nd.

Make sure you find a spot before the planes take off forever!

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Where Are They Now?

We are so proud of our alumni from the Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance. Our graduates are scattered all over the world enriching the lives of the communities around them. Featured are just a sampling of our talented, hard working graduates representing acting, playwrighting, musical theatre, directing and scenic design!

JOSH KRAUSE (MFA ACTOR ’15)

Josh Krause will be working with Milwaukee Chamber Theater playing as Pip in their upcoming production of Great Expectations. Recently he performed in Children’s Theatre of Madison’s production of A Christmas Carol (Fred) this past December. Other regional credits include Jack of Hearts (Jack) for Milwaukee Entertainment Group; Julius Caesar (Octavius and Caius Legarius) for Optimist Theater; Visiting Mr. Green (Ross) and Jeeves at Sea (Crumpet) for Artists’ Ensemble Theatre; Goodnight Moon for Children’s Theater of Madison. In addition to acting, he is a teaching artist for the Milwaukee Repertory Theater where he teaches Adult Acting and Sunset Playhouse where he teaches Creative Drama. Josh lives in Milwaukee, WI with his wife, Rachel and their two cats, Butters and Tweak.

 

NATHAN DAVIS (MFA PLAYWRIGHT ’14)

Nathan is currently writing a new play for Arena Stage’s power plays initiative. His play The Wind and the Breeze will have its world premiere at Cygnet Theatre in May 2018. Two of his plays Dontrell Who Kissed the Sea and Nat Turner In Jerusalem are being published by Samuel French this year. Nathan lives and works in New York City.

 

EMILY KELLY (BFA ’16)

Emily Kelly is currently in rehearsals for Thoroughly Modern Millie at Goodspeed Opera House where she is in the ensemble. She is excited to share the stage with fellow IU grad Evan Mayer who is also in the cast as the male swing! Emily is based out of New York City.

 

 

 

 

 

EMILY SCHULTHEIS (BFA ’15)

Emily has been very busy since graduating in 2015. She is currently the standby for Elphaba on the national tour of Wicked. Emily is based out of New York City.

 

 

 

 

ROB HELLER (MFA DIRECTOR ’15)

Since leaving IU Rob Heller has continued to work as the Resident Director for Musical Theater at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute in NYC. Recently he directed The Wild Party by Andrew Lippa and most recently Urinetown by Hollman and Kotis. For The Wild Party he was joined by IU alum Sarah Wells who served as Assistant Director and for Urinetown he was joined by IU alum Sam Barkley who served as Assistant Director, Fight Choreographer and Stage Manager. Rob also directed productions of two gender bending all female plays at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in NYC: Vrooommm! by Janet Allard and Men on Boats by Jaclyn Backhaus. He has continued his work with the CDP (Collaborative Development Production) workshop series at NYU’s Graduate Musical Theater Writing Program and this year two of the Jonathan Larson Award winners are alums of this workshop series. For the first time this year, CDP is a curricular feature of the New Studio on Broadway’s musical theater training and they are working to create a partnership between graduate writers and undergraduate performers. Rob is also teaching and directing at Montgomery County Community College outside of Philadelphia where they offer theater students affordable, collaborative and challenging theater and life training. Last semester they put up an almost completely student created production of the play Say Goodnight Gracie by Ralph Pape and currently they are producing a short play festival with four student directed pieces and two short new plays which Rob is directing. He chose to direct short plays by IU alums:  Space by IU alum Kelly Lusk and Fledgling by IU alum Nathan Davis. He also consulted with IU alum Lee Cromwell who is the Associate Producers of the Source Festival and the DC Fringe Festival for guidance in creating their own festival. Also, he is working diligently to bring the Wet Ink New Play Festival back to Bloomington this summer with brand new readings, workshops and productions by artists who have been part of the Bloomington Theatre Community.

 

IAN MARTIN (BA ’16)

Ian Martin is living and working in Chicago. He is the Artistic Producing Apprentice at Goodman Theatre, which is a yearlong program where he gets to work within the Artistic Staff on various aspects of artistic planning and producing, including casting and artistic personnel selection, budgeting and fiscal planning and special event planning. In February, he and a colleague programmed this year’s Black History Month program series. More info on that at http://www.goodmantheatre.org/BlackWordsMatter

 

GRAHAM SHELDON (BA ’09)

Graham Sheldon won a regional Emmy award for his long-form documentary Crossing Borders, which he wrote and produced. Graham was previously nominated for a regional Emmy in 2012 for the documentary Echoes from Chernobyl shot on location in Chernobyl, Ukraine. Currently he just signed on to shoot, as a producer and director of photography, a film for PBS on genetic mutations. Filming takes place throughout April and May all over North America. He is also developing a comedic scripted series as a producer, in which Minnie Driver makes a cameo in the pilot sizzle episode. During the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) convention in April, Graham will be appearing on a panel sponsored by Teradek. He also continues to write about all things film related for an online publication called cinema5d.com.

 

ARIAN MOAYED (BA ’02)

Arian recently closed The Humans at Second Stage Theatre in New York City. In 2011, Arian was nominated for a Tony award for his portrayal of Musa in Rajiv Joseph’s Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, opposite Robin Williams. As a film/TV actor, Mr. Moayed just finished shooting Barry Levinson’s newest film Rock the Kasbah as a lead opposite Bill Murray, Bruce Willis and Kate Hudson. Last year, he starred in Alfonso Cuaron/JJ Abrams’ TV Series, Believe, for NBC. This fall, he will be co-starring in Jon Stewart’s directorial debut Rosewater. As an Artistic Director of Waterwell, which he co-founded in 2002, he has helped devise over a dozen original productions including GOODBAR (Public Theater), The|King|Operetta, Marco Millions and The Persians. He is a proud recipient of the Theater World Award, a Drama League and Drama Desk nomination. He currently teaches in and administers the Waterwell Drama Program, which partners with the Professional Performing Arts School, one of the leading high school drama programs in the country. As a filmmaker, Mr. Moayed is currently creating three short films and a full-length feature. His first film, “Overdue”, has screened at some of the best film festivals in America including Palm Springs Film Festival, CineQuest Film Festival, Athens International Film Festival and now, the Noor Film Festival. His second short film, “Day Ten”, stars Omar Metwally and premiered at the 2014 TriBeCa Film Festival.

KRISTEN MARTINO (MFA SCENIC DESIGN ’15)

Since graduation, Kristen has been working for XL Scenic based out of Chicago as an assistant for Kevin Depinet and Todd Rosenthal. They have worked on numerous theatrical designs both locally and nationally, many with the potential of a Broadway debut. She was also part of a major design for a museum exhibit that will showcase in Germany. In her spare time, she freelances her own scenic designs for theatres across the country. Her recent work includes 3 productions for a Chicago performing arts school, Hound of the Baskervilles and The Christians for Gulfshore Playhouse in Naples, FL and The Toxic Avenger for Farmers Alley Theatre in Kalamazoo, MI. Next up, she will design Almost Heaven: The Songs of John Denver for Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre in Colorado and Peter and the Starcatcher for Farmers Alley Theatre.

Stay tuned for the next installment of the occasional Where Are They Now series!

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Creating New Worlds — The Playwrights’ Experience

By Ashley Dillard

Hey internet land! I am back today to give you some insider information from our MFA playwrights. Here at IU theatre we love new work! As an actor, I love getting a script that has never been produced before. Not only do you get to create a character that has never been explored before, but you also get to work one on one with the playwrights. As they see the play on its feet for the first time, they begin to make changes and really shape the play and characters. It feels alive! I sat down to talk to our two MFA playwrights, 3rd year MFA Bruce Walsh and 1st year MFA Aaron Ricciardi to see what it is like creating new work for the At First Sight series. Bruce’s play, Prospect Hill, was this year’s AT FIRST SIGHT mainstage production in the Wells-Metz Theatre, and Aaron had a reading of his new play Nice Nails on April 1st as part of the just-launched festival of new works.

Playwright Aaron Ricciardi

Each playwright found inspiration from their physical surroundings, but in totally different parts of the country. Aaron explained, “There are so many nail salons in New York City. Actually in some parts of New York there are more nail salons than Starbucks. There was this nail salon near me that I would walk by all the time to get to the train, but I’d never go in there because it was kind of disgusting. Then one day I was walking by and there was a sign in the window that said “Bunny is back” with this Asian women, maybe in her 40s, just looking out the window really forlorn. And writer brain just starting going: Who is Bunny? Is that Bunny? Where did she go? Why is she back? Why are they putting that sign in the window? Who cares that she’s back?”

That was a few years ago and the idea often popped back into Aaron’s head. That combined with his interest in setting a play in an unexpected place and a New York Times article exposing labor abuses in the New York City area’s nail salons all came together as Aaron started his first semester in the MFA playwriting program here at IU. “Mostly I feel that the nail salon situation is such a hotbed for political stuff and that is what I’m really attracted to. My writing is about digging into political issues through how they affect actual human beings.” And thus Nice Nails was born.

Playwright Bruce Walsh

Bruce found his inspiration from a few different places, “I was in a Brethren in Christ church in Philadelphia. They are affiliated with the Mennonite church, sort of Menno-lights, you could say. The church was very left-of-center. There were young Mennonites from rural parts of Pennsylvania that were looking for something more progressive, but they could also please their parents by staying loosely in the fold. And there were A LOT of young people from deeply conservative backgrounds that were struggling to parse out what they wanted to keep from their traditions, and what they wanted to change. It seemed like everyone felt betwixt and between. I did, too, my whole life, for many reasons. Eventually, the church’s reluctance to address their conservative position on LGBT matters caused a painful split for me. It was devastating. So I knew I had a play in me that was going to emanate from this. But, because I’ve been here for the last three years, the theme came out in a distinctly Bloomingtonian way.”

Aaron is very upfront about how nervous he was when he began writing the play for the At First Sight Series. “I hadn’t started anything in a long time. I had just been working on old stuff for awhile. And a lot of the characters weren’t people I know or from a culture I know personally. Essentially my grandmother came into my head. So I just started writing an old Jewish woman with dyed blonde hair, getting her nails done, and just talking and talking and talking. And then the other characters started coming into my mind.” In a short amount of time, Aaron wrote an entire draft in the fall of 2016 and then took a break from it. Now he’s come back to it and started the detail work. “It’s a real mess. I’m moving stuff around in the timeline and just trying to make sense of it all. This is the fun. Generating ideas is the hardest part for me.”

Bruce also found this process to be difficult. “In many ways, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Or do you just feel that way when you’re so close to it? I think at some point we forget, and we redevelop the necessary foolishness to try again. Isn’t that why people continue to have children? Speaking of children, my last play for IU — Berserker — closed on April 2nd, 2016. My son was born on May 13, 2016. So this play didn’t get started until June. I worked on it every day. The first reading was in September. There is a chapter in Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird called, ‘Shitty First Drafts’. She encourages the writer to develop the courage to just get it down on paper — warts and all — so the real work can begin. I read this chapter about once a day. There was a 10-hr workshop of the play in December. I sort of tore the play up in that period. I had to take a few steps back from the initial draft in order to find the play’s heartbeat — what makes the thing tick? What keeps the audience leaning in?”

Bruce continues, “There were at least three different endings in this period. Sometimes I didn’t know if it was ever going to take a step forward. I was in despair often during this process. Then I wrote another draft before rehearsals. I scrapped one of the characters. I completely changed the second half of the play. I felt I was clawing my way to get my arms around the play. We went into rehearsals with this version.  I felt the play was quite rickety, unstable, but I felt the arch was basically there. I finally had a draft I could work with. I continued to rewrite during the first two weeks of rehearsals. I find any scene I write needs at least three rewrites to find its shape. I felt the play finding its shape here. This was exhilarating. Then — before you know it — the script is frozen. In a Equity production, with previews, a playwright is able to alter a play during a series of first performances with an audience. But that is not fair to the actors in a university situation. I’ve always felt it is better to give the actors time to work with the imperfect, than continually undercutting them by ‘perfecting.'”

Each script provided it’s own unique challenges along the way. “The casting of this show is really hard,” Aaron explained, “there are four Korean characters, one black character and a transgendered guy. And honestly, what has been pretty amazing, is that we’ve found every character but one.” Aaron also serves as the Assistant House Manager for the 2016-2017 season productions and has kept his eye open when meeting students and patrons. “I come across a lot of students who usher. I met a girl who is a freshman, she seemed really excited, she’s Asian, she told me she’s in acting class and so I asked her to do the reading.”

Bruce came up against challenges as well, some of it centered around home life versus work life. “The 10 hour workshop in December was one of the hardest moments of this experience. I rewrote the play completely during that process and I wasn’t even sure it was getting better. Plus, my wife and I were sleep training a seven-month-old right at that moment. It wasn’t pretty. But I think I’m forever changed for the better because of it. I know now — in my bones — that sometimes a play has to take a step back, to ultimately find itself. I had courage, and I feel now, watching the audience interact with the piece, that the play was served in the end.”

Despite the long hours, the countless rewrites and difficult moments, it’s all worth it when they see their words come to life. Bruce said something that really stuck with me that I will leave you with, “Having your play done is a surreal, magical, sacramental experience. Every single day of it. It’s easy to forget. You get too deep into creating the product, wanting it to be better, scribbling notes to the director. I have a little trick: Sometimes I adjust my gaze up toward the lights. When I don’t look at the stage directly, I can connect with the mystical experience of having your play before you. I suddenly go back to the place of the play being in me. What’s in me is also outside of me.”

 

Ashley Dillard is a 3rd year MFA actor at Indiana University. She has been seen most recently as Kate in Dancing at Lughnasa at IU, Katherine in Home at the BPP, Marianne in Sense and Sensibility and Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream both for IU Summer Theater. Though she calls beautiful Bloomington home now, she originally hails from Highland, IN.

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Faculty Spotlight: Elizabeth Shea

By Ashley Dillard

A sassy selfie with Liz Shea

Welcome back to another Faculty Spotlight, with some exciting news about one of my favorite people in our department, Elizabeth Shea. Liz (as she’s known around the building) is Director of Contemporary Dance and the woman never stops moving. Every time I see her, she tells me about a new project she has in the works. Recently I sat down with Liz to catch up on a thrilling trip she took to London and found out, unsurprisingly, that she has many more projects in the pipeline!

“Last summer, I went to a conference in Montreal. It was the Body Mind Centering Association 2016 International Conference. I met a woman named Ashleigh Ritchie at this conference and we bonded over our analytical/science based approach to somatic movement. We kept in touch after the conference and I pulled together some resources to go over to London and spend some time at the school she teaches at, the Royal Academy of Dance. It is a very strict ballet syllabus teaching certification organization, but she’s doing a lot of somatic work with her students.”

Liz observed Ashleigh’s teaching and then she lead workshops with the students as well.  “I did something a little different with them. When I do a somatic workshop, there are two things that I work with. One is a straight somatic session which is meant to facilitate the nervous system. Then there is somatic-based dance which is what I teach here at IU. And then there is a hybrid of the two and that is what I did with the students there. They were so responsive!”

Liz and a group of students from the Royal Academy of Dance.

Liz also immersed herself in the dance scene in London, catching performances at The Place, UK’s premier center for contemporary dance. “European modern dance is very different from what we’re doing in the States.”

Now back from her trip, she is working nonstop! She will be participating in the Art @IU symposium coming up in April, showing some of her work and leading a discussion on social action in dance. “That’s part of the heritage of our field. That’s how it started—a revolt against the class system of ballet.”

Liz is also expanding a piece that she choreographed for a dance concert entitled The Rise of Otherness. “It’s about sameness. It’s a duet for two women and I’m calling them my Super Cool Angels because they just sort of move and breath together and it’s really groovy.” She will be presenting this piece on April 1st in the Studio Theatre (yours truly will also be participating in this concert—as an actor, not a dancer!) This concert will also be presented again next semester as part of the College of Arts and Sciences 2017 Themester, which is focusing on ‘Diversity, Difference, Otherness.’

This summer she will be doing a mini-tour of the East Coast with her professional Group, Elizabeth Shea Dance. She will be showing her concert The Rise of Otherness at Sharp Dance Company in Philadelphia as part of Act One-Act Two. Her company was also selected to perform at the Footprints Performance Festival in New York City taking place in early summer. And finally one of her other works Hunger Moon was selected for the 5th Annual Somatic Conference & Performance Festival at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York in July.

And as if that was not enough on her plate, this summer Liz and IU faculty member Allen Hahn will be making a dance film together thanks to a generous New Frontiers in Arts and Humanities grant they received through IU. “Dance for film is a new genre. Most dance for film is site specific and so this one is going to be made at the Old Woolery Stone Mill on Tapp Road. I’m really interested in what happens to an economy or a group of people when the life they know is taken away—like manufacturing or the coal industry. So a lot of ethnological research is being done and will influence the choreography.”

As you can see, Liz is an in-demand teacher and choreographer. We are so glad to have her here at Indiana University!

Ashley Dillard is a 3rd year MFA actor at Indiana University. She has been seen most recently as Kate in Dancing at Lughnasa at IU, Katherine in Home at the BPP, Marianne in Sense and Sensibility and Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream both for IU Summer Theater. Though she calls beautiful Bloomington home now, she originally hails from Highland, IN.

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Prospect Hill’s insidious fourth actor

By Rinjisha Roy

I am back with a final story for you on IU Theatre’s current production, Prospect Hill, which has its final performances this weekend.

Set in modern-day Bloomington in Prospect Hill neighbourhood, the play is a distinct, slice of life story revolving around three characters- Jacob, Rex and Ethan, each of whom is in pursuit of something better than what he currently has in life. Jacob, a therapist, is a graduate with two Masters degrees who seeks fulfilment both professionally and in his relationship with husband Rex. Rex, on the other hand, recently retired from pharma sales and looking for a new mission, seeks to help Ethan find a career for himself. Ethan, a young man in his 20s, is a to-be father who wants to leave behind his bitter past and create a better future for himself and his family.

Josh Smith as Ethan

While watching rehearsals for the show, I was intrigued by the role played by an external element in influencing all three characters. I realized that alcohol and drugs are used and misused by all three characters. Each individual is a seeker of fulfillment and happiness, and such substances bring them a sense of relief they seek, albeit for a short period of time only. For instance, Ethan, who has a history of using stimulants, decides to give up his addictions when he chooses to take responsibility of his pregnant girlfriend. Jacob, on the other hand, turns to substances when he is unable to find meaning in his lifelong devotion to Christ and academic accomplishments while Rex, who tries to be sober most of the time, occasionally ends up drinking out of a hidden frustration with retired life.

My interest in the use of this element in the play led me to speak with Jackie Daniels, the Director of OASIS, the campus hub for alcohol and drug harm reduction, intervention and recovery support. Jackie shared details on drug and alcohol use on campus, some of which I as a graduate student was really surprised to hear! According to data, only 40% of all first-years at IU have not had any prior exposure to substances. Of those who have had exposure, the most commonly misused stimulants happen to be alcohol (often vodka), marijuana and a variety of prescription drugs. As of today, there are around 600+ students living in recovery on campus.

When asked about the impact, Jackie says that students taking substances are unable to realize the immediate effect these have on one’s personal life and academic performance; such realizations occur only after drug use has happened for a prolonged time period, leading students to ultimately seek rehabilitation and recovery support.

Speaking with Jackie, I also came to learn that the use of stimulants on campus varies among different age groups and Jackie highlighted a trend among undergraduate class years. Usually, a transition from freshman to sophomore year involves some students shifting to off-campus locations where there are fewer restrictions to guide behaviour. As a result, experimentation with substance use rises greatly by sophomore year. However, with junior year, concerns about professional/ career-related matters discourage students from using drugs and alcohol, transitioning their focus to improving academic performance instead. Such personal realization indicates an immense developmental shift among students, believes Jackie, leading to maturity and accepting leadership of other important matters.

My first-time visit to OASIS completely changed my perspective on how I used to see our campus. Knowing that substance misuse is widespread here tells me that no one is excluded – this is something that can happen to any of us.

If you know someone who is looking for aid with substance-related issues, or wants to know more on this subject, or even is thinking about trying something for the first time but is unsure of the consequences, don’t hesitate to reach out to the OASIS office, located on the 7th floor of Eigenmann Hall, near the eastern edge of IU Bloomington campus. They have many resources available to assist students, including the Journey Program, an intervention program where you get an assessment to determine the type of care you need, presentations and workshops that are provided on campus by request and also campus outreach and consultation available for any student organization interested in OASIS services. Additionally, a student-led organization is Students in Recovery-Bloomington that provides social support and fun without substances for anyone interested. Below is a link and contact information for the OASIS website:

https://studentaffairs.indiana.edu/oasis/collegiate-recovery/sirb.shtml
OASIS Contacts: oasis@indiana.edu; Call: (812) 856-3898
OASIS Campus Initiatives: https://studentaffairs.indiana.edu/oasis/initiatives.shtml
Prevention Resources: https://studentaffairs.indiana.edu/oasis/resources.shtml

OASIS also invites you to take part in a focus group during Culture of Care Week on Monday, April 3rd, 2017, at 7:30pm in the IMU Maple Room. Your comments during the focus group will be 100% anonymous and WILL NOT be used against you in any way.
The focus group is about Xanax and cocaine use and should last about an hour and a half.

Rinjisha Roy is graduate student in the Arts Administration program at SPEA and a graduate assistant for IU Theatre’s marketing department. She is from Calcutta, India and was a literature major as an undergraduate at St. Xaviers College in Calcutta. Her interests include writing, poetry, Shakespearean theatre and classical music. This is her second semester at IU and she is very excited to be a part of the IU Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance.

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The search for God in Prospect Hill

By Rinjisha Roy

Jacob (Christopher J. Handley) talks with his father on FaceTime trying to convince him to visit.

IU Theatre’s ongoing production Prospect Hill presents an intriguing and intricate sketch of the Christian religion in modern society. In the play, each of the three characters has come to realize and appreciate the power of God through his life experiences.

Joshua Robinson (Rex)

Jacob has been raised a faithful Christian by his father, who continues to impart spiritual teachings to his son even though he disapproves of Jacob’s marriage with Rex. Rex, on the other hand, does not have a religious background like his husband but is very willing and open to accepting Christ as part of his now retired life. As we see early in the play, Rex’s attempts to explore his faith is manifested in the way he puts up portraits of figures that he associates with religion (Emperor Akbar as representative of Islam and the Trinity symbolizing Christianity). Such attempts are not unnoticed by the other two, especially Ethan, who is innately seeking redemption through devotion to Christ that will ultimately allow him to create a better future for his yet unborn child.

In an attempt to better understand how each character in the play comes to love God, I spoke with playwright Bruce Walsh who shared many interesting details on the inspiration behind creating such characters.

Andrei Rublev [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

One thing that particularly influenced him while writing the play was a religious text by renowned inspirational speaker and ecumenical teacher Richard Rohr called The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation, a book that explores perichoresis, or a circle dance, which is an early Christian image of the Trinity, represented in the play through a painting. According to Bruce, the triune God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) was, in a way, sought to be represented through the diverse nature of the three characters.

“Ethan, for instance, is in God the Father mode. He understands God as this brutish father figure who can be cruel but ultimately wants what is best for you, which is kind of an immature relationship with God that we sometimes have,” observes Bruce. This perspective is also shared by Jacob, who bonds well with his father, wanting to please him and transferring that into his relationship with Rex. At the same time, unlike Jacob and Ethan, Rex’s view of God is distinctly his own. “I think Rex is more open to seeing God as the Holy Spirit, sensing the presence of God everywhere, which is a very Rohrian way of seeing it: If truth is true, then it’s true everywhere. So we don’t have to fear other religions.”

Josh Smith (Ethan)

Such an intricate presentation of spirituality in the play stems not only from Bruce’s readings and research, but also from his personal experiences that allowed him to portray religion the way it is shown in the play. In this regard, he mentions one transformative period in his personal life. “At one point, I was suffering from anxieties that caused me great distress physically. Suddenly, certain spiritual teachings made sense on a deeply physical level and I was able to get some distance on my thoughts.”

Bruce’s personal experience is, in a certain way, reflected in Prospect Hill. “In the play, the characters are constantly in search of peace. They seek to achieve peace by adding things- relationships, mind-altering or mind-numbing substances, etc., and for a while these things work. But not for long, because you cannot have peace through simply adding things, it has to come from within you.”

“I think we know God best in our failures, in tough times when we have completely messed ourselves up. That’s often when we come into contact with God, and for me that happens through Ethan, because he loses everything he’s been fighting for.” – Bruce Walsh

Playwright Bruce Walsh

Bruce’s representation of religion in the play, then, is arguably a modern take on spirituality as we see and understand it in the 21st century. When asked about his thoughts on audience’s reception of God as shown in the play, he acknowledges that there might be conflicting opinions among people. “It’s a new thing in our society that you can be both gay and fervently Christian,” he says, adding, “at the beginning of the play, the characters say – ‘God is not a mental construct!’, as in he is not someone that can be thought through with rationally. Realization of God happens on a deeply personal level, and usually through our failures.”

As a theatre lover, I could not appreciate Bruce enough for sharing such intuitive thoughts, and wish him the very best for his play Prospect Hill, running in the Wells-Metz Theatre from March 24 to April 1 at 7.30 pm, also featuring a matinee at 2 pm on April 1st.

The Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance appreciates the valuable contributions of IU’s SPEA arts administrators to the cultural life of Indiana University and the Bloomington community. We look forward to seeing how they continue to be powerful advocates for the arts, here and abroad.

Rinjisha Roy is graduate student in the Arts Administration program at SPEA and a graduate assistant for IU Theatre’s marketing department. She is from Calcutta, India and was a literature major as an undergraduate at St. Xaviers College in Calcutta. Her interests include writing, poetry, Shakespearean theatre and classical music. This is her second semester at IU and she is very excited to be a part of the IU Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance.

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H-T Review: ‘Prospect Hill’ ventures off campus, into intriguing performance

By Matthew Waterman | H-T Reviewer

ProspectReview

From left: Joshua Robinson (Rex), Christopher J. Handley (Jacob), Josh Smith (Ethan)

It’s a known fact that many Indiana University students only experience Bloomington in a bubble. When they do stray from campus, they often don’t make it past downtown.

You can get a degree from IU without ever realizing that Bloomington has mansions, trailer parks, surrounding farms, gorgeous lakes and quaint little neighborhoods such as Prospect Hill.

“Prospect Hill” is the title and the setting of the latest production of the IU Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance. This show presents an opportunity for IU students to peer into Bloomington life outside the bubble. Of course, it’s also an opportunity for any area resident to catch a smart, funny and intriguing play.

For those who don’t know, Prospect Hill is just west of downtown, sandwiched between Kirkwood Avenue and Second Street, stretching from around the B-Line Trail to Rose Hill Cemetery. The houses are small, charming and colorful, with a refreshing lack of uniformity.

Bruce Walsh, currently in his third year of the MFA playwriting program at IU, is the author of this highly original and enjoyable script. Matched with Ansley Valentine’s direction and a stellar cast of three (plus an offstage voice), Walsh’s play is simultaneously amusing, engaging and puzzling.

The play revolves around a married couple, Jacob and Rex, living in Prospect Hill. Rex is a former pharmaceutical salesman who retired from Cook at the ripe age of 52. Jacob is a therapist, but without a formal practice. He takes a few clients in his home, where he leads them through “mindfulness” exercises.

Jacob and Rex have enough problems as it is, with Jacob’s deeply religious father still unable to accept his son’s homosexuality. But the main conflicts in the play arise through both men’s relationships to a young man named Ethan. He originally enters their lives as one of Jacob’s clients, but the relationship evolves into one that really can’t be described with any single word (nor any single sentence, for that matter).

Ethan is a Pepsi truck driver, born and raised in Bloomington, where his grandfather once worked the limestone quarries. He’s a recovering addict with a child on the way. Ethan has ambitions well beyond driving his truck, and he resents being seen as a hick. He seeks Rex’s assistance in becoming a pharmaceutical salesman, despite having just one semester at Ivy Tech to his name.

“Prospect Hill” depicts a series of trials in Jacob and Rex’s marriage. The two men, already at odds over issues such as faith and Jacob’s relationship with his father, have a wedge driven between them by Ethan. Jacob can’t cope when Ethan and Rex seem to find something in each other that neither could get from him. Later on, however, Ethan’s presence seems to bring Jacob and Rex much closer together, before again driving them apart.

In most theater, film and television, the characters are simplified renderings of people that, in reality, would have much more nuance to them. Not so in “Prospect Hill.” Walsh’s characters seem just as complicated and perplexing as real people, perhaps even more so.

The actors brilliantly capture this complexity. Chris J. Handley and Joshua Robinson are an ideal pair as Jacob and Rex. Joshua M. Smith makes for an Ethan that one can’t help but root for. Under Valentine’s careful direction, these actors rarely strike a false note.

The compelling drama and thematic depth of “Prospect Hill” alone would be enough to sell it, but the cherry on top is the humor. More than a few moments in Friday night’s opening performance had the audience laughing heartily.

“Prospect Hill” ends rather strangely, without much sense of resolution. That’s sure to bother some audience members, but it is how most stories end up in real life, after all. The play shows that even in a gorgeous place such as Bloomington, each of us carries around an array of doubts, fears, hopes and unanswered questions.

If You Go

WHO: Indiana University Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance.

WHAT: “Prospect Hill” by Bruce Walsh.

WHERE: Wells-Metz Theater in the Norvelle Center, 275 N. Jordan Ave., Bloomington.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday.

TICKETS: $15-$25. Call 812-855-1103 or visit theatre.indiana.edu.

Reprinted with permission from The Herald Times. More arts stories online at heraldtimesonline.com.
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