Theatre season offers unique experiences to arts patrons

August 24, 2010

PLAINVIEW – If there’s a watch-word for the upcoming 2010-11 theatre season at Wayland Baptist University, it would have to be unique. While some usual favorites like Shorts remain in the lineup, most of the shows featured are somewhat nontraditional to the Wayland season.

Just one of the many ways theatre director Dr. Marti Runnels likes to keep audiences on their toes while providing quality entertainment.

The season kicks off pretty traditionally with a Tony Award-winning play by Alfred Uhry, the writer of the acclaimed play-turned-movie Driving Miss Daisy. Uhry’s The Last Night of Ballyhoo is set in Atlanta, Ga., in December 1939. Hitler is invading Poland and Gone with the Wind is opening in Atlanta theatres. But the German Jews in Atlanta are more worried about who is attending the big social event of the season, called Ballyhoo.

This play has comedy, romance and a very honest presentation of the prejudice that existed within the Jewish community of other Jews, which is all particularly poignant because of what is happening in Poland,” Runnels said. “The play points out with humor that life may be more complex than it appears on the surface. We all need to be challenged about our own culture and roots.” 

Runnels said Uhry’s piece won the Tony Award in 1977 for Best Play and said audiences will enjoy the humor which carries some serious overtones, like most comedic plays. The Last Night of Ballyhoo will be performed Sept. 30 through Oct. 2 at 8 p.m. and again on Oct. 3 at 2 p.m.

The second fall production is the 14th installment of Shorts, an evening of student-directed short plays that spotlight student talent in various areas. According to Runnels, students direct, act and design the set and lights for the shorts, most of which lean toward the comedic side. The evening is a great way to involve new theatre students and even other students who are not theatre majors but want a small taste of the Wayland stage.

Shorts will be performed Nov. 11-13 at 8 p.m. and again Nov. 14 at 2 p.m.

From there, Runnels’ season goes into unchartered territory. The first spring production, called Musical Mayhem, coincides with Wayland’s homecoming toward the end of February. But this highly improvisational evening will be unlike anything traditional audiences have seen.

“It’s very challenging work to do improv and not everyone can do it,” Runnels said. “Being funny while making stuff up off the top of your head is quite an art form.”

The evening will incorporate musical elements like jazz, which has its roots in improvisation, and musical theatre, with help from new faculty member Brian Kuhnert, a visiting professor in voice and opera/music theatre. Runnels’ theatre students and others will fill in with improv skits, music and dance numbers.

Runnels likens the improv night to the popular “Whose Line is it Anyway?” television show where actors create scenes and original musical compositions on the fly. The end result is typically hysterical, though Runnels said improv doesn’t necessarily equal funny all the time. Some romance or melancholy scenes may interweave.

“There is no script, so I’ll be writing an outline for the various parts and how things start and stop,” he said. “There will be some direction, but if people come on more than one night, they’ll see something different that won’t have happened before in a rehearsal somewhere.”

Musical Mayhem will take the Harral Studio Theatre stage Feb. 24-26 at 8 p.m. and again Feb. 27 at 2 p.m.

The final spring semester show is Seven, a unique work of seven different female playwrights including Paula Cizmar, Catherine Filloux, Gail Kriegel, Carol K. Mack, Ruth Margraff, Anna Deavere Smith and Susan Yankowitz. A modern-era play gaining international attention for its issues of human rights and perseverance, the play features vignettes about seven women from around the world who endure unique experiences and go on to make a difference in the lives of others.

“This is a docudrama in every sense of the word. Everything you see actually happened to these women and there’s no elaboration or embellishment,” Runnels said. “But this is not a tragedy or a victim play. It’s a celebration of life.

“These women haven’t just survived; they’ve thrived.”

Runnels said the content is not suited to children because it deals with some harsh circumstances the women have endured. But the seven key characters have overcome situations of rape, torture, death threats, severe abuse, sex trafficking and other social justice issues that grace many of today’s news headlines.

Seven will be performed April 15 and 16 at 8 p.m. and April 16 and 17 at 2 p.m. with a lunch preceding.

The final show of the season takes place June 10 in Ruidoso, N.M., for the sixth year of the Sacramento Mountain Theatre Collaborative at the Spencer Theater for the Performing Arts. A special effort bringing together high school and college students as well as graduates and faculty, the collaborative will culminate in a one-time performance of The Complete History of America (Abridged), which Runnels called a “tour de farce” comic romp through 600 years of history.

Authors Adam Long, Reed and Austin Tichenor repeat their humorous, fast-paced tradition – which they began with a similar piece covering the works of Shakespeare and the Bible – in this play, which Runnels called pure fun.

“It’s based on history but you may not recognize it,” he laughs.

Another new aspect to the season is a new technical director in Steve Wood. A native of Indianapolis, Wood is a doctoral student in theatre at Texas Tech University with an emphasis in directing and design. He is excited to dive into his areas of passion and will begin teaching classes in the spring in the technical theatre areas.

“It will be good to work again since I’ve been a student for several years, and it’ll be good to integrate my faith into my discipline in a different way than you do in a state school,” Wood said.

Season tickets are available for $45 for a single and $85 for a couple, representing a 17 percent and 22 percent savings over box office prices, respectively, for the four local performances. Individual show tickets are $8 for regular shows and $20 for the lunch performances of Seven. The Ruidoso show is an additional $30 per person, bringing a single season ticket to $75 with that show or $145 for a double with Spencer tickets.

Season passes are available until the first show.