A UI senior’s version of Chekhov

BY JOSIE JONES | MARCH 25, 2010 7:30 AM

Slade Kemmet/The Daily Iowan
A group of UI actors warm-up for a rehearsal of The Anniversary, which they will perform both Saturday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
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Emily Larson isn’t afraid of a challenge.

The UI senior was initially set to direct the play Burning Bright as her Honors thesis. However, after studying performance at the Moscow Art Theatre last semester, she had something different in mind.

“I decided to change the project entirely and incorporate some of the things I learned while I was abroad,” she said.

Larson is now directing a show featuring etudes as well as the Chekhov one-act “The Anniversary.”

The performance will begin at 8 p.m. Saturday in 172 Theatre Building. An additional performance will take place at 2 p.m. March 28. Admission is free.

Five UI undergraduates will perform a combination of individual and group etudes. Larson described etudes as skits designed to familiarize actors with the script; they are considered less of a performance and more of an experiment.

“What I really wanted to demonstrate was how working on etudes could really help the final product,” the 22-year-old said.

Andrew Clancey, an actor in the performance, explained that etudes are an intense observation focusing on what makes a subject what it is, then using that observation to create a “mini-drama” with a personality that’s unique to the actor.

“It’s a great way to understand conflict that is happening without words being spoken,” he said. “I’m inspired by dialogue when I act, so it’s a good way to break out of that shell and expand more of the inner conflict that’s not being said.”

The Russian techniques, including etudes, that Larson wanted to incorporate into her Honors thesis is one of the elements that attracts the cast members.

“I’ve never heard of [those techniques], and they sounded like an awesome learning opportunity,” said Clancey, a theater and cinema major. “I love getting exposed to things I’ve never done before.”

While etudes are novel to the cast, the Chekhov one-act that follows is also a new opportunity for the performers.

“The Anniversary” begins with a bank that isn’t doing well. The new chairman, Shipuchin, contends that the reason for the poor performance is the lack of aesthetic appeal. He dresses up the bank in gold and velvet, among other fancy items, and the bank attracts more customers. Shipuchin, played by Clancey, sets up a festival to celebrate the one-year anniversary of his being the head of the bank.

A twist Larson has incorporated is to allow the cast members to pick out their own costumes.

Clancey believes this to be a privilege.

“As much as a costume designer would do a better job in most cases, with a project like this, because it’s been so much about the process of collaboration as actors, it’s nice to be responsible for how we look on stage,” he said.

While her project has survived many mutations, Larson has also listened to the actors’ opinions — which, she said, has allowed her to not be a dictator. That, she believes, makes the production enjoyable.

“Yeah, it’s my Honors thesis, but I’m going to have a fun time directing them no matter what we’re doing,” Larson said. “And as long as they’re satisfied, that makes the process
more valuable for everyone.”

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