Catawba College faculty and students traveled all the way to Estonia and the Baltic Sea this summer to collaborate on a theater project. Professors Dr. Janice Moore Fuller (English) and Dr. Elizabeth Homan (Theatre Arts) and ten Theatre Arts students spent a two-week collaborative residency in June at the Polli Talu Arts Center developing Fuller's original dramatic text, Machine Play, or I'm Not Nadine
. Joining the company there were Polly Boersig, a professional costume designer and LSU faculty member, and Sean Meyers, a professional photographer who documented the experience.
Machine Play, or I'm Not Nadine examines the unique relationships that women across time have negotiated with a variety of machines, from Household Appliances and Office Machines to Fantasy Machines, Transportation, and finally Hospital Machines. It will be fully produced as part of the Catawba Theatre Arts Department's Mainstage season this October. Fuller wrote the script for Machine Play over the past two years at residencies at La Maison Verte in France and the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Ireland. During this time, Homan, who will direct the fall production, critiqued the play and advised Fuller concerning the staging elements of the script. Cliff Retallick, a recent graduate of the North Carolina School of the Arts' MFA program in film music composition, wrote all of the play's original music.
The Estonia residency served as the travel component for a course taught by Homan this past spring. Homan designed the course, entitled Collaborative Aesthetics and Ensemble Techniques, to provide selected theatre students with both the academic knowledge and practical training necessary to function as effective members of a collaborative ensemble. Over the course of the semester, students examined the history of ensemble theatre and contrasted the "collaborative aesthetic" with more traditional creative processes. After exploring a variety of ensemble techniques, they began workshopping Fuller's Machine Play.
The residency at Polli Talu Arts Center was added as a travel component to help students fully experience what it might be like to be part of a working ensemble company reminiscent of historic experimental theatre companies like the Group Theatre and the Polish Lab. The Arts Center offered the ideal collaborative atmosphere. Far from home, and unable to speak the language, the students learned to rely on one another on both a professional and deeply personal level.
Situated near the Baltic Sea, Polli Talu is a traditional Estonian farm complex consisting of five log buildings with thatched roofs made from locally harvested reeds. In 1995, artistic director Marika Blossfeldt purchased the complex and transformed it into a non-profit, international arts center dedicated to "the integration and exchange of ideas, nationally and globally." Each summer, between June and September, Polli Talu hosts a variety of international painters, writers, dancers, video artists, and composers for both short and extended residencies.
During the residency, Homan and Fuller worked with the students developing the staging for the fall production of Machine Play. Homan rehearsed with the students an average of five to seven hours each day. Fuller worked on rewrites, and designer Polly Boersig collaborated with assistant costume designer — student Sam Brooks — on the costume renderings. The group took several rehearsal days off to explore Estonia through arranged excursions to Saremaa Island, the resort town of Parnu, and the medieval capital of Tallinn.
In addition to Drs. Homan and Fuller, Catawba students who made the trip to Estonia include Sam Brooks of Seaford, Va.; Jordan Danz of Mequon, Wis.; Meredith Fox of Elon; Gracie Greenbaum of Tolland, Conn.; Amy Guenther of Asheville; Caitlin Heinen of Wauwatosa, Wis.; Justin Johnson of Fuquay-Varina; Guerin Piercy of Swannanoa; Beth Simpson of Loveland, Ohio; and Joey Yow of High Point.
The ensemble will resume rehearsals for Machine Play later this September in preparation for the production scheduled for October 25-29 in Hedrick Theatre on Catawba's campus.
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