Theatre production to paint chilly picture of polar exploration

PLAINVIEW – West Texans think they know chilly weather when the temperatures dip down in the teens and 20s. But life on the Plains is nothing like the bitter cold of the South Pole, as many have experienced over the years.

The experiences of some polar explorers will come to life on the stage of Wayland Baptist University’s Harral Studio Theatre as the theatre department presents Ted Tally’s dramatic play Terra Nova at 8 p.m. on Nov. 10, 11, 16, 17 and 18.

Based on a true story written from diary entries and letters, Terra Nova is the story of a team of British men racing to reach the South Pole against a Norwegian named Roald Amundsen. The Brits are led by Captain Robert Falcon Scott, a determined man who leaves his wife and family behind for the adventure.

“They have to find out how to survive in the harshest elements,” said Dr. Marti Runnels, theatre director at Wayland. “They’re there for 11 months, just skiing and sledding and sliding across the ice with the most rudimentary equipment. What they had to use back then was not nearly as fancy as what we have now.”

Runnels said the play is a dramatic story about survival at its most basic level, and about being a national hero. The characters must weigh personal glory against sacrifice and being away from their families in conditions that may not allow them to return home.

“It gets us to ask these questions of ourselves as well,” Runnels said. “Would I do what these guys did, and give up what they gave up?”

Runnels’ first encounter with Terra Nova was while judging a UIL One-Act Play competition several years ago. Boys Ranch High School performed the shortened version of the play, and Runnels said he was spellbound.

He wanted to bring the full-length version to life on the Wayland stage, but waited until the theatre majors encompassed enough young men to adequately perform it. This was that year.

Since beginning work on the play, Runnels said he’s enjoyed the research aspect of this play, since it is based on historical figures.

“I love directing fiction, but there’s something fascinating about being able to go online and see pictures of these guys and read their letters and diaries,” Runnels said.

The students have been studying the historical background as well, getting a feel for the experience. The male cast members even spent a weekend in Caprock Canyons State Park in Quitaque camping out during the recent cold front to get a glimpse of life in the cold.

“Of course, it wasn’t nearly as bad as what those men went through, but they did get an idea of the cold,” Runnels said. “This was their idea, and I commend them for wanting to have that experience.”

Runnels noted the set design by technical director Chris Moore is “one of the most unusual sets we’ve done. We’re not really trying to totally recreate the South Pole but this will give people a whole different feel in the Black Box.” Runnels believes audiences will enjoy the drama of the play and the poignant, thought-provoking dialogue, but admits the play “pulls no punches.”

Runnels also warns parents the show might not be the most suited to younger children. The images of harsh suffering and near-death might be disturbing for children who wouldn’t understand the scenes.

The cast includes Jordy Williams, a freshman from Shallowater and a newcomer to the WBU stage, in the role of Scott. Tim Fisher, a senior theatre major and WBU theatre veteran, plays Amundsen. Hannah Stewart, a sophomore theatre major, plays Scott’s wife Kathleen. Scott’s crew is played by sophomore Feliciano Morales (Bowers), senior Grant Jasper (Wilson), sophomore Thomas Hoffman (Oates) and sophomore Chris Smith (Evans).

Junior Rita Pitts is serving as assistant director for the production, in fulfillment of her directing class project. In that role, she is helping Runnels with direction duties and getting more hands-on directing experience.             

The show begins at 8 p.m. each night, with the house opening at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $8 per person. An Afterglow session will follow the play, with dessert and discussion about the production and the history behind it.

For reservations, call the Box Office at 291-1089.