Wayland taking comedic trip through history to Spencer stage 

May 11, 2011

PLAINVIEW – For the sixth year, Wayland Baptist University will have a presence on the summer season lineup at the prestigious Spencer Theater for the Performing Arts stage in Ruidoso, N.M.

With a history that includes high-brow comedies, biographical dramas and classic mystery, the WBU theatre group opted for this year’s production to bring a little of all of that together. The one-time performance of The Complete History of America (Abridged) will take the Spencer stage on Friday, June 10 at 8 p.m.

Written by the trio that calls themselves the Reduced Shakespeare Company, the piece is one of a series penned by Adam Long, Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor. The recipe for all the RSC works is the same: take all the works of a particular author or era, condense greatly, add humor and lots of funny jabs and let the curtains rise. 

Wayland theatre director Dr. Marti Runnels, who is directing this show as well, said fans of comedic theatre will get a real treat in this production.

“This is a very prop and costume-intensive show,” he said. “It’s one of those shows with people coming on and off stage in costumes or with props where they might be Abraham Lincoln one minute and someone else the next.”

Runnels said he first saw a performance of the group’s The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) and thought it was hilarious. But he wondered if audiences would be daunted at the thought of 90-straight minutes of Shakespeare.

“This piece has the same comedic style but has a more universal appeal,” he said. “It’s our own history and these folks are reenacting and poking fun at various things in history.”

The show begins before Columbus’ discovery of America and ends up at the George H.W. Bush years, when the script was written. But because the play lends itself to some improvisational aspects, Runnels said he plans to insert some more current events for audiences as well. There is music, singing and some audience involvement as well, and Runnels said audiences will definitely “get it” and enjoy the slapstick humor along the way.

“Everyone is getting spoofed in this, on both sides of the political spectrum,” he laughed. “No one is left out.”

The Reduced Shakespeare Company started in 1981 with a 20-minute version of Hamlet performed in Los Angeles and San Francisco. They soon added a short version of Romeo and Juliet and then wrote the complete Shakespeare works piece, premiering it in 1987 in Edinburgh. The group begins touring the U.S. in 1988 and becomes a hit. The American history piece premieres as the second RSC production in 1993.

Since then, the trio has added Western Civilization: The Complete Musical (abridged), detailing world history; Completely Hollywood (abridged) featuring the 197 greatest films of all time; All the Great Books (abridged) with a condensed ride through literature; and their most recent show, The Complete World of Sports (abridged).

The production in Ruidoso is the culmination of an intense rehearsal schedule that begins May 19 in Plainview on the WBU stage and then moves in its entirety to Ruidoso on June 1 to begin the final 10 days of rehearsals and staging in the Spencer space. The entire undertaking is a logistics challenge with building of sets – Runnels said this one would be simple and abstract mostly due to the content – and blocking being done in two different locations.

But Runnels said the work is worth it to expose students to a professional space like the Spencer and for the uniqueness of the partnership.

“It’s a hallmark for us; no one else has this. It’s rare even for larger universities to have this type of program,” Runnels said. “To be able to take my students into a professional venue and recruit students from the area as well and use this to increase Wayland’s reputation around New Mexico is just so valuable.”

Runnels said the city of Ruidoso has embraced the university and its partnership and he sees immediate recognition and appreciation for the efforts each summer. In addition, a large contingency of supporters come from El Paso to see the shows each year.

Typically, the production involves actors from the region’s high schools along with current and former WBU theatre majors. But this year’s show only calls for three major actors and with the intensity that is required, Runnels wanted to give his actors more time to prepare.

That said, the show will feature three of Runnels’ newest alumni majors in Amanda Allen, Sarah Buckland and Jake Miser, all of whom graduated on May 7. All three have been involved in numerous productions at Wayland during their time in Plainview and are talented actors. Both Allen and Miser have had roles on the Spencer stage in previous years, and Buckland was stage manager for the Ruidoso production of Shadowlands in 2006, the summer before she started her freshman year at Wayland.

Corinna Browning, a senior theatre major from Channing, will serve as a backstage prop and costume mistress for the show and will fill a few small roles on stage as well. Technical theatre director Steven Wood will design the show and will also have a few small roles in the play. Andrew Miller will be stage manager. Runnels said his confidence in this slate of actors makes him particularly excited about the 2011 trip to Ruidoso.

“I don’t have to wonder if they can do it or how they’ll be on stage,” he said. “These kids are like family.”

Tickets to the production of The Complete History of America (abridged) are $25 through the Spencer Web site, www.spencertheater.com. The Web site also features links to area lodging options and other attractions, as does the city Chamber of Commerce site at www.ruidoso.net.