Posts Tagged ‘Student productions’

‘The Shape of Things’ Twists The Truth About Art

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

Edgy show poster

By Marcia E. Gawecki

The student reviews were out after Thursday night’s performance. “The Shape of Things,” a play by Neil LaBute and performed by the Idyllwild Arts Theatre Department, was a hit.

“Fast-paced,” “Edgy with good music” and “Everyone was good,” were some of their comments. Yet, the bloodstained poster with a scapel and a bare backed guy made this Midwesterner nervous.

There were big changes for this play. Could only four actors, with minimal staging and props, command our attention for two hours? And, this was to be held “in the round” at Rush Hall on campus, a departure from our comfy IAF Theatre.

“There’s no bad seat in the house,” exclaimed Elias, who had already seen it twice, including the Understudy’s Show on Saturday afternoon (Starring Omid as Adam, Alexandra as Evelyn, Daniel as Phillip and Samantha as Jenny).

“They took out all of the sex scenes because we’re teenagers,” explained Arthur. “but there’s still some suggestive language.”

“You have to sit in the front row,” suggested Cynthia, a vocal music major. “Then you’re at arm’s reach of the stage. The actor’s like it because then they’re ‘one’ with the audience.”

Walking into Rush Hall for the final performance on Sunday, Jan. 24 was like walking into a New York Dance Club. The curtains were drawn, the walls were all black, and the floor was silver painted “in the round.”  A bright light shone from above center stage, while human “guards,” dressed in black, stood around it. As promised, seating was ample on all sides. I sat in front–just beyond arm’s reach of the stage.

The music was edgy and loud. The darkness, noise, and unfamiliarity were all intentional. No fairytale ending for this show, but I wanted to get out unscathed (which I did), but not emotionally.

For this was a modern tale about power, deceit, lust and tyranny–all for the sake of art. It certainly was a topical subject for an art’s boarding school because nearly everyone in the audience was an artist. Could we all stand a closer look at ourselves?

Yet, this show, according to director Howard Shangraw in the playbill, “presents an intense and shocking look into art and the artlessness of people. ‘The Shape of Things’ provokes us, disturbs us and may even seduce us. It is all subjective.”

The darkness, noise and chaos was intentional

I looked around for the nearest exit.

In a nutshell, ‘The Shape of Things’ was about four students at a small midwestern college, who seduce and sleep with each other. Along the way, there’s jealousy, control and transformations. Yet, it wasn’t just another entertaining drama. There was a deeper level, one about morality with religious undertones.

Throughout this play, Neil LaBute, the Canadian playwright and filmmaker, who attended Brigham Young University, reveals many Adam and Eve metaphors, including the spray-painted statue with fig leaves, Adam’s total transformation, even his “EAT” tattoo.

“I don’t like art that isn’t true,” states Evelyn, a graduate art student (beautifully played by Tierra) as she edges under the guardrail with her spray can. “What are the fig leaves covering? His ‘cluster’?”

This was the first time that we meet Adam and Eve, or Adam and modern-day Evelyn. You know the old story in Genesis, Adam and Eve eat from the Tree of Knowledge after God told them not to. Adam blames Eve, and Eve blames the snake. They are naked before God, so they hide behind the fig leaves.

Strong-willed Evelyn spray paints a penis on God. What does that say about her? In the end, she claims she is someone who puts “art” above all else, including her fellow man, religion, family and community.

Yet, Adam (convincingly played by Dylan) falls in love with Evelyn, and miraculously changes before her. He exercises, lifts weights, eats better and tries new things, such as a haircut and contact lenses.

He doesn’t mind when Evelyn videotapes their sexual encounters.

He can’t believe that someone so beautiful wants to be with him. Typical guy, looking at the surface, or The Shape of Things, and not the psychopath that lies underneath.

Never mind that his best friends, Phillip (played by sophomore Dakota) and Jenny (played by Meghan, a senior), don’t like her. At first, they’re amused that he’s improving physically. Phillip is glad that he finally ditched his old corduroy jacket after three long years. Jenny, Phillip’s fiancé, loves the sparkle in his eyes that his new contacts bring. So much so that she sleeps with him. Yet, when Adam undergoes rhinoplasty (Evelyn’s suggestion), and lies about it, they become alarmed.

At their first group meeting, Phillip gets into a shouting match with Evelyn over the spray-painting episode at the museum. Evelyn defends the artist (herself), but never owns up to the deed. Why not? Especially since she felt so strongly about it. Likely, she didn’t want to get arrested before her “project” was completed.

“I knew what was going to happen,” stated Paul, a fashion major, after the show. “But I just didn’t expect it to be so cruel.”

(On right) Dylan, who plays Adam, is an experienced actor onstage and screen

Paul was among the many sullen faces in the audience during the final scene when Evelyn admits that she used Adam as her art thesis “sculpture.”

“As my grandpa would say, ‘He’s a real piece of work!'” Evelyn said as she unveiled photos of Adam’s transformation from nerd to stud.

Yep, she’s right. Adam looked better, was stronger and more confident. Yet, he was genuinely in love with Evelyn and wanted to marry her. He even put her initials on his hip, “E.A.T.”

“What? Could you not afford the word, ‘Me?’ Evelyn asked him earlier before the rhinoplasty.

“No, it’s your initials,” Adam said, unaware that he was being devoured.

Although there was a lot of dialog throughout the play, the best words came at the end.

“Sorry that you’re so upset,” said Evelyn, as she stood amongst her installation clutter, including the engagement ring and sex videos.

“You messed up my life and put it under glass,” shouted Adam. “F–k you, you heartless B–ch! You don’t see it as wrong?”

Evelyn claimed that she never loved him, and didn’t want a relationship. Yes, she seduced him, for art’s sake, but that was all. She should thank him, actually, because he’s better looking than before.

(At L with Sasha) Tierra showed her good-girl acting talents in "Jayne Eyre," but the darker side in "The Shape of Things"

Trying to force morality on someone who doesn’t have it is nearly impossible. All of Adam’s words were in vain. At the end of the play, he’s left alone, looking at their sex tape.

“That doesn’t surprise me that this play had a double meaning,” said Jesse, a theater major, after being told that the leads were named Adam and Eve. “All of Neil LaBute’s plays have duality.”

(Kat Factor, a poet and head of the Interdisciplinary Arts (IM) Department, mentioned the Adam and Eve connection afterwards. In turn, I told it to many of the students who saw the play, who all said, “Ahhh!”)

LaBute is known for his terse language (like David Mamet) and his cynical themes of love and lust.  In his first film, “In the Company of Men,” (1997) two men seduce and dump a deaf female coworker “for the fun of it.”

LaBute didn’t stray far from his cynicism and cruelty years later in “The Shape of Things.”

After the great performance Sunday, I was angry — at Evelyn, college boys and cynical playwrights —  for their unabashed cruelty. Not all artists are like Evelyn, so self-absorbed and mean-spirited, Neil.

But it also brought back a bad memory from my college days at UNL. One Saturday night, about 50 fraternity boys all went to the local bars. They were having a contest to see who could pick up the ugliest girl. Then they brought them all back to the frat house for a “party.” Left alone in a room for awhile, these ugly girls realized that their cruel “joke.” I wasn’t one of them, but I could have been.

Ah, The Shape of Things!

In this play, Neil LaBute shows us what one man was willing to do for “the sake of love,” or sex, and what one woman was willing to do “for the sake of art.”

That’s it.

It’s not about all fine artists everywhere. It’s just one person’s view. An entertaining and twisted view.

Copyright 2012 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

Published on: Jan 24, 2012 @ 14:26

More than Just Pretty Costumes

Saturday, January 14th, 2012

(from L) Gracie and Minnie discuss outfit options for the next show

By Marcia E. Gawecki

One of her best-known student productions was “The Learned Ladies,” by Moliere, in which she painted French words in oversized script letters directly to the fishnet on the girl’s ball gowns.

“That turned out pretty well,” said Minnie Christine Walters, who heads up the Costume Shop (part of the Theater Department) at Idyllwild Arts. “Howard Shangraw was pleased.”

Over the past seven years, Minnie has created the costumes for comedies, dramas, period pieces and anything Howard Shangraw, head of the Theater Department, would throw at her.

“We work well together,” she said of Howard. “He doesn’t scare me.”

Most times for the student productions, she has a limited deadline, a small budget, yet she has access to many resources. She has worked in the business for more than three decades, and has earned three advanced degrees. Besides Idyllwild Arts, she teaches at the Art Institute in San Bernardino, and can draw upon many sources to get her costumes.

(from L) Minnie discusses the colors Kent-Harris' character, Phillip, would wear

“Did you see ‘For the Birds?'” Minnie asks. “There were some showgirl costumes that I borrowed from a friend of mine in New York. It’s good sometimes when you don’t have to start from scratch.”

One of her more challenging productions was for Redlands College in which she had to create 4,000 dance costumes.

Oftentimes, she said, the costume designer is brought in late into the planning of the production. For this one, she designed the dresses on paper, but had all of them made in China. It took about a month.

“It would have been impossible to pull off any other way,” she said.

For the next Idyllwild Arts production, “In the Shape of Things,” Minnie and her Costume Shop crew had it relatively easy.

“There’s only four actors in the play, so each of the students gets to focus on one actor,” Minnie explained.

She had her Costume Shop students,Tenaya, Grace, Bess and Kent-Harris, all create “mood boards,” of magazine cut-outs of what each of the actors would wear. They read the script and broke them down scene-by-scene.

Mood boards help students in the Costume Shop stick to the script

“For example, Tenaya’s character, Eve (played by Tara) is a controlling black widow of a woman,” Minnie explained. “So we’re dressing her in red and black tight-fitting outfits with stiletto heels.”

With their mood boards and calculators in hand, the Costume Shop crew and Minnie drove to Hemet on Tuesday, Jan. 10, to hit as many thrift shops and outlet stores as they could find.

They ended up going to four, including two different Goodwill Stores, Marshall’s, and Angel View Thrift Shop. On the list was the 9.99 store, Target and Kohls, but they didn’t need to go there.

Minnie’s budget for five outfits for the four characters, including shoes, jackets and jewelry, was only $300.

“Oh, we’ll make it,” she said, unnerved. “We’re going to thrift stores where you can get purses and shoes for under $10.”

At Marshall’s, the first stop, Gracie showed her outfits to Minnie. She liked that the student kept to the show’s color palette–muted purple, fuschia, gray, black and red. She showed her a little purple “balloon” dress for only $10, but Minnie refused. Too much bare shoulders for her character, Jenny (played by Meghan).

Tenaya came over with glitter stiletto heels for Eve, but was also turned down by Minnie. At $40 a pair, they cost too much.

“I love them so much, I just might buy them for myself,” Tenaya exclaimed. “But my mom would kill me!”

(from L) Tenaya and Bess wait in line with their costume selections at Goodwill

Kent-Harris found a nice blue polo shirt for “Phillip,” played by Dakota. He offered a selection to Minnie, who picked the muted blue over the periwinkle blue.

“I love this color, but it’s too bold for your character,” she explained to Kent-Harris. “And we don’t want him upstaging Eve.”

Throughout the day, Minnie was continually reminding the students about the characters, and the script.

One of their bigger challenges was finding two Rock Star type T-shirts that looked exactly alike. In one scene for the next show, one of the male characters goes to bed wearing the Rock n’ Roll T-shirt, and the girl wears it the next day.

“We need two exact shirts because it’s a quick scene change, and we don’t have time to switch over one shirt,” Minnie explained.

When Tenaya was looking for a purse for Eve at the Goodwill Store, she showed two options to Minnie. One was a fuschia bag with a stylish flower on the side, and the other was a glitter bag with a black strap.

“I like the fuschia bag because it matches her outfits,” Tenaya explained. “But the glitter bag has a velcro clasp, and it would be easy to open and close onstage.”

“Remember, Eve will be taking the spray paint cans out of the bag,” Minnie added.

Kent-Harris would add up all of the prices on his cell phone's calculator

“The fuschia bag also has a snap, so it’ll be easy to open and close too,” Tenaya said. “And then you wouldn’t have that loud velcro sound.”

They decided to get both and let Howard pick the one he wanted.

And so the day went, looking at clothing, matching the character, and sticking to their budget. At each store, they would gather together and show each other what they wanted. Then Kent-Harris would add up the total on his cell phone calculator.

Sometimes, they would have to toss things back because of the price or the faulty material.

At Angel View Thrift Shop, Minnie found a potential dress for Eve. It was black, form-fitting with man criss-crossed lines in the front.

“I like this dress because of the web-like criss-crossing in the front,” she said. “Eve is a black widow spider, and this might be perfect for her.”

While they were waiting for Kent-Harris at Angel View, Tenaya, Gracie and Bess all tried on prom dresses. They had a dance coming up soon and the prices were great. Bess and Tenaya bought theirs for under $20.

After five hours of shopping, they broke for dinner. The only item still at large was a leather jacket for “Phillip,” Kent-Harris’ character.

“I’ll ask Howard if we can go to the Help Center in town,” Minnie said.

She also has outfits left over from other productions that she might be able to draw from.

Students would ask each other for input. Here, Tenaya holds up a sheer blouse for Eve.

Minnie said that they measured the four actors, but didn’t ask for their imput on their costumes.

“I’ve learned over the years that actors’ imput can just put a wrench in things,” Minnie said. “One actor that I knew refused to wear a green shirt because someone told him that he didn’t look good in green. But the green shirt is for the character, not the actor.”

Minnie’s background is strong for theater. She has a Bachelor of Arts in fashion, a Master’s degree in Musical Theater with an emphasis on Acting, and an MFA in Costume Design. She says sometimes people treat her like a “dumb seamstress,” but she sometimes has to mention her advanced degrees and put them in their place.

She admitted that most Theater students at Idyllwild Arts are agreeable with her selections, but they sometimes complain about things being itchy. Some of their selections for “In the Shape of Things” was wool and leather.

“Would it be too hot for the actors onstage?”

“I never worry about that,” Minnie said. “That comes with the territory of being an actor. There’s going to be hot  lights most of the time. If they can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!”

If anything Minnie and her crew have picked is ill-fitting for the actors, they can always sew it and make it right. When a jacket was the right style and the wrong color before, she’s spray-painted them.

“Some of the costumes end up not looking so great up close,” Minnie admitted. “But as long as it looks good to the audience, that’s all we care about.”

All the bags filled the back of the school van, and the students were giddy about their selections. Minnie advised them to arrange all of their outfits so that Howard could approve them the next day. However, as they headed for the Costume Shop (in the basement at Bowman), Howard’s car was parked outside.

(from L) Bess had to shop for a male character, Adam, played by Dylan.

“Guess we’re going to talk about the outfits tonight,” Minnie said.

During the “In the Shape of Things” set for next weekend, Jan. 20-21 and 22 at Rush Hall, Minnie and her crew will be in the basement, helping the actors with their costume changes.

“It’s a pretty sexy play,” Bess explained. “But Howard toned it down a bit because we’re teenagers. In my old school, they would never do that.”

“Yes, but we don’t want to embarrass the other students who are coming to the show,” Tenaya said.

Minnie just smiled. All of the costumes were nearly ready, but there was a lot more work to be done on show day.

Copyright 2012 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

Published on: Jan 14, 2012 @ 11:22