Take a trip back in time: SOTA sets stage for fall
August 30, 2016
Northern Kentucky University’s School of the Arts will visit Great Depression-era Oklahoma for “The Grapes of Wrath,” a 1920s recording studio in Chicago’s South Side for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and New York City in the 1920s for “Thoroughly Modern Millie” as they gear up for another season of performances in the Corbett and Stauss Theaters.
The Grapes of Wrath: Sept. 29-Oct. 9 in the Corbett Theater
The cast for “The Grapes of Wrath” has been set in stone since spring, and while most other students used their summer to relax, “The Grapes of Wrath” cast was encouraged to do a little research.
Director Corrie Danieley advised the cast members to read John Steinbeck’s novel, listen to music such as Woody Guthrie, do some labor intensive work and spend time with their families, particularly older members.
“Fortunately this time period isn’t too far away so we have plenty of video footage, documentaries and even people around who remember it,” Danieley said. “We’re very fortunate in that way.”
Frank Galati’s stage adaptation follows the same story as Steinbeck’s novel. Set during the Great Depression, “The Grapes of Wrath” follows the Joad family as they’re forced away from the Oklahoma Dust Bowl.
“It’s really Americana, and you can see lots of parallels in what we’re going through today,” Danieley said. “This depression, we need hope, we need light at the end of the tunnel in America. The play’s about loss, and it’s about hope– and humanity surviving– because that’s what it was.”
Danieley said production has gone smoothly for the most part, but there have been a few snags along the way, one of them being the stage in the Corbett Theater.
“The Corbett stage needs repair, the stage is sloped and it’s breaking down,” said Danieley. “You can imagine our crew trying to make this level on an unlevel foundation. It’s awful.
“I really give props and accolades to our crew and our set builders.”
Danieley’s “The Grapes of Wrath” will also feature a string band that double as actors in the performance.
“Sometimes they’re going to work together, sometimes they’ll be individually floating throughout the show,” Danieley said. “I’m really glad we have the student talent to do this.”
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom: Oct. 25-30 in the Stauss Theater
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is more than a simple production from the theater and dance department.
The show will employ the help from the entire School of the Arts; the music program to create the soundtrack and the music that the actors will be playing plus the visual arts program will design the cover to the soundtrack CD that will be produced.
“It’s another SOTA collaboration that is celebrating once again the brilliance of that union,” Director Daryll Harris said.
The play is set in a 1920s South Side Chicago recording studio, home to famous blues singer Ma Rainey. Ma Rainey struggles against her producers to keep control over her own music, but the band’s trumpet player has a different idea on the direction the music should take.
Harris said he proposed the play to the theater faculty because of its focus on the African American experience and the department had not done a play by August Wilson.
“Many consider him to be the 20th century William Shakespeare,” Harris said. “Others consider him to be the black William Shakespeare, but in any case we’ve not done any of his works so it’s to add that for our students and our campus community.”
The cast for the production has not be settled yet and will be posted Sept. 2-4.
“With this particular play the Ma Rainey character needs to be able to sing in a specific style, not just sing,” Harris said. “So an opera singer wouldn’t necessarily work for this.”
Harris also mentioned that the cast would need to be primarily black.
“It is a play specifically about the African American experience and would be disingenuous and untrue to the intent of the message and the intent of the playwright to cast it otherwise,” Harris said.
Thoroughly Modern Millie: Dec. 1-11 in the Corbett Theater
Jamey Strawn typically likes to find a new way to spin the productions he’s directing. Last spring he transported “Into the Woods” into a library, but Strawn won’t be tinkering with “Thoroughly Modern Millie” quite as much.
“‘Millie’ is a pretty new piece in this area,” Strawn said. “It hasn’t really been done a ton so I’ll probably be a little more straightforward with this one, but I still have a few tricks up my sleeve.”
Dick Scanlan and Richard Henry Morris’ “Thoroughly Modern Millie” follows Millie Dillmount around 1920s New York City, jumping from job to job in search of a rich boss to marry and better her status in life.
The musical puts a lot of focus on the 1920s world, featuring lots of tap dancing, flappers and jazz music composed by Jeanine Tsori.
“I’m really excited to promote her work because there are few female composers in the broadway world, so I think it’s great for us to champion a piece that’s written by a woman,” Strawn said.
Right now “Thoroughly Modern Millie” is in the pre-production stage with Strawn and the crew designing the set, costuming, filling out the orchestra and deciding how many people are going to be in the show and who the cast will be.
“The show’s huge, there’s 19 locations that they go through,” Strawn said. “Just the sheer size of the piece and figuring out how to manage that in an affordable way and also in a way that is effective for the audience has been a little challenging.”
Despite numerous locations and inevitable set changes Strawn’s goal is to create as smooth of a show as possible.
“I’m the kind of director that’s very concerned with flow and I want the show to feel liquid,” Strawn said. “I don’t want the audience to wait while we change scenes.”