Behind the Scenes of Theater’s New Production
- By Amanda Kenyon Waite
This week, Stupid F*#king Bird takes the Royall Tyler stage. The attention-grabbing title is a nod to Chekhov’s The Seagull, and the play, by award-winner Aaron Posner, is an edgy, irreverent update of the theater classic.
For UVM Theatre, that’s a sweet spot to hit when choosing a script. “There is a connection to another form of theater — an era that we still reference and study,” says director Craig Wells. “Dramatic analysis students might read The Seagull and then watch this play and then have a discussion. What was retained, what disappeared and why?”
But at the same time, the play proves more accessible for student actors and a campus audience. “We’re trying to find plays that resonate,” Wells says, “and there’s an edginess to this play that students relate to.”
Ever-present and watching over the production, Chekhov looms over the back of the stage. Professor Jeffrey Modereger painted the mural. A scenic design expert, Modereger has worked on national tours of Kiss Me, Kate and Singin’ in the Rain, the Showtime series The Brotherhood and on the Disney film Underdog.
Senior Jesse Cannon undertook the entire set design as her thesis project, a capstone on three years of experience in set work at UVM. A double major in theater and engineering, Cannon is drawn to hands-on work. Here's, she's painting the set's kitchen counters to look like butcher block, carrying out the final details of a vision that began in the spring. She's seen the set through concept to execution, all while working collaboratively with others and within a budget. Comparing this project to a traditional thesis, she says, "I love the fact that it is so public so I can get more feedback than just a professor or board; there's an entire audience of people."
Eventually, Cannon’s model of her creation will join this archive of past UVM Theatre sets.
It's a contemporary play, so many of the cast will wear clothing purchased off the rack, but the Costume Shop has designed and created one dress for the production. Nutrition and food sciences major Dani Knight gets fitted for her role as “Nina,” in a dress created by Martin Thaler, professor and resident costume designer, and Sarah Bush, shop supervisor.
A look through the shop's archival drawers reveals elaborate costume conception work on productions past.
UVM's Royall Tyler stage is home to theater majors and non-majors alike. It's the first time on any stage for English major Austin Yates, center, who took an "Intro to Acting" class last spring. But Yates says he's felt supported throughout. "As someone who's never been part of a major production like this, every step was a learning process. Thankfully I had Craig and my very talented fellow cast to help support me throughout the journey -- not to mention our tireless stage managers."
At rehearsal, Craig Wells gives direction to sophomore Noah Lanckton.
Junior Jace Jamason, right, is stage manager for the production, and senior Liam Daugherty is sound designer. “The play has this young energy to it, so having that younger voice has been pretty valuable,” Wells says of his team.
Junior Oak Horton, playing "Mash," rehearses with Yates, playing "Trig."
Junior Ellis Burgin and sophomore Katherine Reid, rehearse as "Con" and "Emma." Birch trees in the background also play prominently in the set, another nod to Chekhov.
Junior Dani Knight performs a play within a play.
See Stupid F*#king Bird at UVM's Royall Tyler Theater, Sept. 29 - Oct. 9. Information, tickets.