With room for just 60 audience members for each show, the staging of “Our Town” was a risk for director and performing arts chair Rob Lewis, who typically fills the 400 seat Norris Auditorium with his performances and is well known for never turning away would-be audience members. Presented in the round in Miller Black Box Theater, the set was sparse and the seating was limited. We sat down with him to discuss his decisions—and what it all has to do with Homecoming.
Why “Our Town?”
The play offers a renewed awareness of what life is—the preciousness of life and how fast time is moving. It gives us time to pause…to take a moment to appreciate it before something about it changes. It’s a play that shows the beautiful qualities of life amidst its inescapable challenges.
I thought about how I’d be staging the play just before our first home-turf Homecoming in 21 years, and that’s such an important symbol for our community. Time passes and we can come back to ourselves and each other. We raise small 7th graders to be seniors, but our community remains permanent.
What help did you have?
Assistant director Scott Myers was extremely helpful. The play was his first production back in 1985. He decided to direct it once again in the fall of 2001, just after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Scott’s literary knowledge influenced his notes to the actors, as well as the inclusion of the influential Edgar Lee Masters poem “Lucinda Matlock” in the program.
Why Miller, and why in the round?
With all these pantomimed actions and people moving about, there’s this level of intimacy in the action that in Miller you get to almost secretly be a part of, whereas in Norris, you’re more of a bystander, an observer.
I tell the audience, “You will see only tables and chairs because it is not about the things. Community does not happen in things, it happens in our interactions, our exchange, whether it be a nicety, a compliment or a hug or a wave, even a simple look.”
How did you prepare the actors?
I would stop rehearsal and I would just ask, “In what ways in your life do you see love manifest? What forms?” I’d ask, “Where do you experience loss? What do you find to be your purpose?” We talked about 1901, the technology, the differences and similarities. I’d ask, “What are the things we still do, today, but it just looks different?” They would articulate in their own personal narrative how things relate. And then we would start to see how they could bring these ideas into their work.
Keila Joy Fisher ’17, who played the stage manager, reacted to the various perspectives that working in the round provides.
“It was just really interesting to sit down in different seats and see the different reactions of people. Being that close to the audience, you’re on the journey with them, so when they started crying, you have to stay in it, tell yourself, ‘we’re okay.’ It was a very daunting task at first, but I definitely think it paid off.”
Stage Manager, Mrs. Forrest, Mr. Morgan: Keila Joy Fisher
Dr. Gibbs: John Murphy
Joe Crowell, Si Crowell: Michael Bremer
Howie Newsome: Diego Tobar
Mrs. Gibbs: Mishtii Murari
Mrs. Webb: Maddy Bernstein
Constable Warren: Alex Grace, Arthur Harris
George Gibbs: Cameron Wu; Noel Caverly
Emily Webb: Katie Lee; Piper Lewis
Mrs. Soames Elida Kocharian; Izzy Wachtel
Rebecca Gibbs: Sia Dreyfuss
Wally Webb, Belligerent Man: Wylie Kasai
Editor Webb: Ari Kaplan
Irma, Woman in Audience & Among the Dead: Tanya Mankerian
Professor Willard, Mrs. Carter: Zoe Rucker
Simon Stimson: Joe Spera
Mrs. Foster, Woman in Audience: Kendal Kully
Martha, Woman among the Dead: Danielle Maxwell
Joe Stoddard, Baseball Player: Luke Stiles
Sam Craig, Baseball Player: Max Rosenfeld
Bill: Cole Slater
"Our Town" Slideshow: