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Ghosts take over in MSU theater production of "Six Characters in Search of an Author"

Friday, January 25, 2008

Six ghost-like characters will be taking over the MSU Auditorium and proclaiming their desire to live.

The MSU Theater Department’s production of “Six Characters in Search of an Author” opens at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 29 and is a “Signature Event” celebrating the Year of Arts and Culture. Tickets are $10 for the public and $8 for students and seniors.

“We have this tagline, ‘We want to live’ which is actually a line from the show,” said director and MSU professor Nick Tamarkin.

This “play within a play” is about a group of actors rehearsing their own show who become interrupted by six ghost-like unfinished characters from another author who want their stories told in order to be complete and able to live.

“It is an outer shell which is an argument about the theater in general and an inner shell which is this dramatic battle between the actors and characters,” Tamarkin said.

Tamarkin said the play is unique because it is entirely student-run. “I’m the only person involved who is a non-student. The students will be primarily crewing for themselves and they’ve been heavily involved in working with the script,” Tamarkin said. “It is also composed of all undergraduate students which is significant.”

The play is not only unique in content, it is also unique in process. In the beginning stages, Tamarkin made a conscious decision to separate the “actors” from the “characters.” He asked the students in rehearsal to not interact or speak with each other at all. This exercise emphasizes student’s learning experience of how to discover one’s role in the show.

“It was interesting because the theater department is a very close community and I had to create this version of myself that didn’t know the other ‘characters,’” said Paul Bourne, a theater senior who plays an “actor” in the production.

Tamarkin said this process also forces moments of spontaneity and honesty, allowing one to see sensitivity and a sense of difference between the actors and characters while they’re on stage. This difference is the basis of the show’s foundation. “It is primarily a good exercise for the students because it is a different type of process; we try to emphasize having a process and the education of students since we’re learning how to interact,” Tamarkin said. “The process is really the most important things. The performance will be what it will be.”

Sarah Tomek, a theater sophomore, plays the mother “character” said it was strange to not talk about the play with her friends in the show but the process helped her project genuine reactions and get into character. “It really gets us in the mind set that the “actors” and “characters” come from two completely different worlds and live separate lives,” Tomek said. “(The process) has affected everything I do; when I’m in character saying a line to an “actor” who is a friend and I can look at them like they’re a stranger.”

The rehearsal schedule for the production has been truncated due to the interruption of winter break and having opening night on a Tuesday instead of a typical Thursday opening. The entire cast has been rehearsing together for about 2 weeks.

Even having only rehearsed together for a short time, Bourne thinks the preparation is right on track. “It is a very difficult piece with a lot of interesting philosophies, so there in lies the challenge of making it interesting to watch. I think we’ve made considerable progress with that.”

The theater department has done other plays for the Year of Arts and Culture throughout the year, such as “As Bees in Honey Drown” and “Arts or Crafts” by MSU professor Rob Roznowski.

“I think what we’re doing is investigating these plays from a much different angle,” said Tamarkin. “I think it was picked because it is a standard in the field and it is ‘metatheatrical,’ it’s speaking about itself and taking itself as its own subject. We live in this time of making copies and the virtualization of things and this idea of ‘How important is the theater to us right now?’ It strikes at the heart of the matter precisely by being specific about theater and arts in general.”

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