May 15, 2019

Road Trip to the Borderlands

UMass Department of Theater takes "Wild Thing" to El Paso, Texas

In April, the University of Massachusetts Department of Theater took its play Wild Thing on the road, and the student cast and crew got to experience firsthand what it means to tour with a production—in this case, a play about the borders of identity, being performed in an actual border town.

Wild Thing is the title of the English translation by Professor of Theater Harley Erdman of Luis Vélez de Guevara’s original 17th-century play La Serrana de la Vera. The production was selected for the renowned Siglo de Oro Drama Festival of Spanish Classical Theatre, performed annually at the Chamizal National Memorial in El Paso, Texas—on a long-negotiated border between the U.S. and Mexico that has been turned into a peace park.


Road food is an important factor in touring.

Mounting a production in a completely different venue 2,400 miles away demands ingenuity, versatility, and preparedness—costumes, for example, were shipped down to Texas in 13 separate crates. It also requires people skills. 

Student lighting designer Erin MacDevitt ’19 knew the value of getting in touch with resident lighting designer Danielle Hernandez a week before, to assess what equipment was available, and cement a working relationship. “Once we got down there, I had two hours to set everything up so I had to move at an extra fast pace. But I had all my cues already in my book, and she has been working there seven years so she could make things happen really quickly.” 

Along with her fellow crew and cast, MacDevitt had her sense expanded of what it means to tour. “I’ve done shows here, but never done this out of the state, in terms of actually designing something. It was fun working with people on another side of the country, experiencing the pacing, and seeing how other people operate.”

With the original title meaning “The Mountain Woman from La Vera,” the play is set in the La Vera region of Western Spain. Created in 1613, considered the “Golden Age” of Spanish drama, the play takes place during the reign of Isabel and Ferdinand, the late 15thcentury (1469-1594). But for all its temporal remoteness, the play is stunningly modern: Gila, the play’s protagonist, is a villager’s daughter who defies traditional gender roles, hunting and dueling, and crushing on Queen Isabel.

Director Gina Kaufman, associate professor of theater, reports that the performance received “extremely effusive feedback” from the festival audience, which included professional troupes from Mexico and Spain. 

Touring such a production can be expensive in addition to being logistically complex. Alumni Gabrielle Capolupo ’86, Rob Corddry ’93, Jeffrey Donovan ’91, Laura Bailey ’03, and Bill Pullman ‘80G helped sponsor the trip. Once the company knew they had the opportunity to go to El Paso, relates Kaufman, “Our alums came through right away.”

Unless otherwise indicated, photography is courtesy of assistant director Josh Glenn-Kayden and UMass Amherst Department of Theater.