Hampshire College sophomore Jeff Patlingrao stands inside a three-sided, seven-foot- high wooden box performing Andrea Fer-gusons Channels before the 50 or so friends, classmates and UMass theater faculty who fill the otherwise bare room. He alternately recites the lines written by his friend, plays an electric guitar, mimes, and shuffles among hand-made yellow street signs as four monitors spool through video images of him reciting lines, playing guitar, displaying street signs. . . Well, you get the idea.
A classroom-turned-performance-space in the theater departments corner of the Fine Arts Center, Studio 204, the invention of UMass theater professor Harley Erdman, allows students to stage their work in front of an audience without having to make a production out of it. This is very low-tech theater, Erdman says.
Low-tech indeed: During tonights presentation six short pieces by MFA candidate Tanya Kane-Perrys experimental theater class the lighting crew consists of a student standing by the doorway to flip the light switch at the proper intervals, and the sound crew is another student in the back of the room with a boombox. Backstage is the flourescent-lit hallway outside, and the most elaborate set of the evening is a claw-foot bathtub used in Then Enters Red by Hampshire student Megan Palaima.
But thats the point, says Erdman, whose speciality is dramaturgy: The idea is to put the emphasis on the script and not on the production of the play. The FAC has two venues for student productions the Rand and Curtain theaters but until now has lacked a black box theater for bottom-of-the-budget undergraduate performances and script studies.
Kane-Perry says her students have done spontaneous performance in the classroom and some guerrilla theater around campus, but jumped at the chance to stage their work in front of an audience. In fact, she says, they were so motivated to produce, direct and perform their works in Studio 204 that they also arranged a show at Hampshire, where half the class of six is enrolled.
For me, the main part of the course is the performance aspect, says Kane-Perry.I think its really important that undergraduates have a place to perform.
Most of her students, not all of whom are theater majors, came to the class with specific agendas or issues they wanted to explore. Irem Calikusu 00G, who finished a masters in anthropology last spring, had studied and traveled with practicioners of butoh, a Japanese dance form which she describes as very intense, very internal. Now, she says, Its time to do the dance.
Calikusus Invitation to the Red World, more performance art than theater, closes this show at Studio 204 and catches some of the audience by surprise. As the crowd files out of the room and down the hall, Calikusu, wearing a dirty and tattered white ruffled dress and holding a single rose, slowly, painfully makes her way against the flow, falling to the floor, getting up and falling again.
Its about desire, she explains after the audience has dispersed. Its about the things you want and how you cannot get them. How you get up each time and keep on going.