J-Term Provides Long Days for Anderson Theatre Production

Posted on January 19th, 2012 by

The more than 50 members of the cast and crew involved with the Department of Theatre & Dance January Term Theatre Production project are gaining a new understanding┬ádaily of the old saying “No rest for the wicked.” For the students and staff working on the production (to be presented in Anderson Theatre, February 17 – 26) there is little rest. In the true spirit of the January Term tradition, the entourage is using the month-long opportunity to focus all of its energy on this one production.

There is very little time for rest.

Mason Henderson as William McKinley Assassin Leon Czolgosz

Mason Henderson as William McKinley Assassin Leon Czolgosz

From the large cast to the crews that involve carpenters, costumers, choreographers, electricians and engineers, directors and accompanying musicians, these days are not simply daily lectures with assignments. In Anderson Theatre, January is an all-day, sometimes 7-days-a-week, 8-week long adventure. The cast includes 13 characters and all of them sing and dance in addition to memorizing lines and acting. They begin the day with a 2-hour music rehearsal with Music Director Christina Smith. Each afternoon, the cast is on the Anderson Theatre stage with Director Henry MacCarthy, followed by an hour with the dramaturg studying the characters they are playing and, after a short dinner break, they are back on the stage.

Creating Two Centuries of Costumes

Creating Two Centuries of Costumes

While the stage is the focus of most of the day’s activity, the costume shop is buzzing. It looks like a clothing museum as a host of costumers, adorned with strips of fabric, thimbles, stick pins and chalk, work on costumes to dress characters in period dress spanning two centuries. The scene shop is quiet for a moment as the major construction of the set has been completed. The carpenters, electricians, lighting and sound designers are busy cleaning and preparing to make the final touches to the set, string cables and focus the lights.

Sondheim’s musicals are never easy. Especially this one for it really does not offer any rest for the truly “wicked.”

Director Henry MacCarthy and the Department of Theatre & Dance are producing one of Stephen Sondheim’s most controversial musicals, Assassins, with a story and cast based on 13 of the most notorious characters in American history: 13 individuals who attempted to murder a President of the United States. The cast includes characters from John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald to John Hinckley, Jr., “Squeaky” Fromme and Sara Jane Moore, all searching for the American dream, all disillusioned by their failures.

Ben Batz as the Balladeer and Ethan Bjelland as James Garfield Assassin Charles Guiteau

Ben Batz as the Balladeer and Ethan Bjelland as James Garfield Assassin Charles Guiteau

Four of the assassins were successful. The others were not. In each case, the assassin’s delusions fixed on a thought echoed in the song that opens and closes the show, “Everyone’s Got The Right.” Everyone has the right to a piece of the American Dream. As Andre Bishop of Playwrights Horizons wrote following the Broadway premiere of Assassins in 1991, “Behind their motives….they share a common purpose: a desperate desire to reconcile intolerable feelings of impotence with an inflamed and malignant sense of entitlement.” Some saw their destiny in grandiose terms, “Remove a scoundrel, preserve a nation” (President James Garfield’s assassin, Charles Guiteau.) For some, the attempt was entirely personal, “Let me prove worthy of your love.” (“Squeaky” Fromme for Charles Manson, before firing on Gerald Ford and John Hinckley, Jr. for Jodie Foster, before firing on Ronald Reagan.) They saw themselves as victims. All were called crazy, mad or insane. And all were angry for they felt that they had been denied their American Dream. And they needed someone to blame.

Director MacCarthy chose Assassins as he appreciates the challenges that Sondheim’s works present to actors at any stage of their acting study. In addition to those challenges, Assassins has 9 very strong and demanding leads which offer great performance opportunities for the students in the cast. The characters, all of which were real, give the actors an additional opportunity to research and develop their roles.

Assassins, according to MacCarthy, allows the actors to “think about issues of performance and social justice.”

Assassins is set in Limbo — a place to spend eternity without suffering, a place where the assassins exist to tell and retell their stories and commiserate with each other for all time. The assassins never leave. The entire cast is on stage when the audience arrives. They remain on stage during the entire show. The audience is, in effect, simply dropping in on the conversations of this very unique assembly of historical figures. After a short time, the audience leaves. The assassins remain. Their story continues.

In a very real sense, for Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins, there is no rest for the wicked.

The Gustavus Department of Theatre & Dance production of Assassins opens in Anderson Theatre on February 17 at 8:00 p.m. Additional performances are scheduled for February 18, 24 & 25 at 8:00 p.m. and February 19 and 26 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets will go on sale on two weeks in advance of opening night on gustavustickets.com or by calling the Gustavus Ticket Center at 507-933-7590.


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