Monday, February 16, 2015

Georgia Southern's RACE Spurs Surprising Audience Reaction at KC/ACTF 2015

Tatyana Arrington, Whitaker Gardner, and V. Akil Jackson
*Some of the students at the eight schools who brought plays to KCACTF Region IV this week had previous experience with taking a show on the road to the festival. But for current students at Georgia Southern University, the experience was completely new.
The Statesboro school packed up their fall production of David Mamet’s Race and headed to Albany, Georgia, which as we theatre people know well is easier said than done. Members of the Race team say they first had to consider the significantly different structure of the theatre in Albany in relation to the theatre they had used during their run in September.
“The new space affected the set because originally the set piece was on the ground floor,” says assistant stage manager Brandon Muggy, referring to the large platform on which sat the lawyers’ office. “We had risers for the audience in the original space, and they were closer to the set [than they were in the Albany venue]. But the new space was a proscenium thrust, so the set was up higher now, and the audience was below.”
Thus, the new space necessitated the team to anticipate adjustments before arriving at the venue. And with just four hours allowed in the theatre before the performance, they had to make it run like clockwork.
“We practiced load-in one day at the Performing Arts Center,” says Tatyana Arrington, who played Susan. “We were just like, ‘We just want to load in the set to see how long it’s going to take and get a feel for the space.’ So we did it at the PAC at Georgia Southern, because it’s a lot bigger than the Black Box, and more similar to the space in Albany. Doing that ahead of time helped us be faster and helped us get a feel for the space just so we could know what we were doing.”
Muggy says the most onerous part of the practice load-in ended up being not the heavy platform pieces, but rather the simplest set dressing.
“We had so many books!  And to catalogue all the books and to get them on the shelf to please the designer was a challenge. When we did our first practice load-in, it was a disaster. It took us literally an hour to figure out where to put the books and eventually made a catalogue system and used that to tour.”
Besides rehearsing load-in and load-out, the cast, which also included Whitaker Gardner, Harry Hudgins, and V. Akil Jackson, met for rehearsals in the weeks leading up to KCACTF. Even this proved easier said than done, because Arrington had graduated this past December.
“We had to have Skype rehearsals before I could actually come back to Statesboro,” says Arrington. “Then we were rehearsing every day, and Lisa [Abbott] was sitting in on that last week of rehearsals before we left for ACTF.”
Their preparation paid off, because once in Albany, it was smooth sailing, with a load-in that met their one-hour goal. The cast and crew spent some of their remaining hours before the show working out the kinks that came with a new space, though those were few.
Both Muggy and Arrington agree that by far the most surprising aspect to this whole process was the audience’s reaction.
Muggy says, “At our home performance space, the audience didn’t receive it well… The audience here at ACTF had a completely different reaction. We got laughter! That was astonishing. I remember sitting backstage thinking, ‘They’re… laughing at this?!’”
Arrington was surprised at how strongly she could sense the total support of the audience. “It made our performances even better. I feel like just feeling them enjoying the show, laughing and sighing and saying things like, ‘Uh-uh! No way! I can’t believe this! Another curse word!’—everything like that helped better the show for me.”
But the best moment in Arrington’s eyes came after the final line had been delivered. Parts of the audience started a standing ovation without waiting for the lights to come back on for the curtain call.
“When the lights went down, I just remember I breathed really loudly, and then Akil [Jackson] put his hand on my shoulder, and then the lights came up,” Arrington recalls.
“Just to see everybody on their feet clapping and cheering for us, it was the best feeling. We just felt so happy in that moment. I literally ran off stage, changed out of my costume as soon as possible, ran into the guys’ dressing room, and jumped into their arms, saying, “I love you guys! We did it! We did it!” It was such a good feeling.”
Muggy says that even a day after the show, he still heard conversations about the material, as well as praises for the whole team. “I hung out with Harry [Hudgins] today, who was Charles, and some people stopped us and said to Harry, ‘Oh my God, you were so good!!’ So it was exciting to see their reaction today. And they’re still talking about it.”
*I wrote this piece for the American College Theatre Festival Region IV this week as part of the Institute for Theatre Journalism Advocacy's young critics competition. Click here to read the rest of my ACTF articles!

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