Theater Honors Week productions take the stage

BY JULIA JESSEN | MARCH 22, 2012 6:30 AM

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Over the course of the next few days, one stage in the Theater Building will be transformed from a play set in the 1930s, complete with bottles of Jack Daniel's and euphoric guitar riffs, to a one-man show filled with drawing, painting, and performance.


This semester's Theater Honors Week presents the work of two theater students: Kjai Block and his one-man show playing today and Saturday and Taylor Bradley and her 1930s-era play playing Friday and March 25, each at 8 p.m. in the Theatre Building's Theater B.

The week was designed as an opportunity for senior University of Iowa students graduating with Honors in theater to present a project to their peers and the community.

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Block, Bradley, and Maria Vorhis were accepted for the project this semester. They will graduate with Honors in May.

"[Theater Honors students] are able to study, do well in their classes, and work outside the theater," said Meredith Alexander, the theater Honors coordinator. "I think sometimes their work is somewhere around 80 hours or more depending on how involved they are, so they've really earned this right."

The criteria for the endeavors are open-ended; as long as the proposal challenges and relates to the students' future careers in theater, it has a chance of gaining approval.

The two works on display this week and their creators provide a glimpse into the wide spectrum of talent to be found in the Theater Department.

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When the Lights Go Out

Bradley's play, When the Lights Go Out, is a twisted 1930s love story in which a broken young woman finds herself torn between two men.

The piece tells the story of Mae, a young woman whose mother died when she was young and whose father abandoned her. Consequently, she had to figure out how to take care of herself and survive any way she could, including selling her body.

"She's very, very broken, so she uses this prostituting herself as a way to control her life, because she knows that if she does certain things, the men will react in a certain way," said UI junior Amelia Peacock, who plays Mae.

Bradley began working on the script two years ago, spending time polishing it and rewriting until she was happy with it.

"It's never left my side," she said. "I carry it with me everywhere, and I'm constantly making changes."

Not only did she write the play, she also directed it and designed the sets and costumes, seeking advice from experts in each area.

"I went a little bit above and beyond what was required, because I'm very passionate about theater," she said.

In addition to all of her efforts working on When the Lights Go Out, Bradley juggles 24 semester hours of school work and a part-time job at a local sandwich shop. This workload may seem like an impossible challenge to some, but she prefers to be optimistic.

"Partly, I feel like I'm crumbling, but partly, I feel like this is the hardest I've ever pushed myself, and I'm going to come out of it even stronger," she said. "At the end of the semester, there won't be anything I can't handle."

To stay on top of it all, the writer/director/designer keeps a production binder, including scripts, actor notes, scheduling plans, and post-it reminders. She also sets phone alarms to remind herself to call people or submit things.

"And I keep copies of everything that's in the binder, so I can double- and quadruple-check everything that I do to make sure I'm covering all the bases," she said.

Peacock said all of Bradley's planning paid off in putting the show together.

"All of the pieces are slowly but surely making their way into place, so it's pretty exciting to watch," she said. "I know that Taylor can do anything, and she will definitely bring it all together in a beautiful way."

Bradley will also get a chance to show her work at other Iowa City venues later this year. Public Space One and Riverside Theater will feature When the Lights Go Out as the first Theatre Honors piece to be shown outside the UI Theater Building.

The Thing That Did Got Done

Block, the other featured senior Honors student, also wrote, designed, and performed his one-man show, The Thing That Did Got Done. The production is a fusion between performance, drawing, and painting in which he interacts with his artwork as the characters.

"I personally really don't feel like I'm very good at any one particular thing, but I feel like I can do a lot of different things," he said. "By doing this, I'm trying to bring as many of these different things that I like doing into one cohesive element."

Block said two of the most difficult things about doing a one-man show are self-motivation and having so few limits.

"You're walking the line of total freedom, and because of that freedom, your possibilities are endless," he said. "It's always been very difficult for me to narrow down and get specific about what I want to achieve with this piece."

Despite having trouble determining what particular message he intends to convey, he said, as long as people take away their own message in addition to being entertained, he is happy.

"I think you have to walk away going, 'Oh, that was pretty great,' or 'That was terrible' — I don't care what it was," he said. "As long as they're talking about it, I feel completely satisfied, but if they walk away indifferent, something is wrong."

Carol Macvey, one of his teachers in the Theater Department who also worked with him on a play last semester, said she considers Block to be the ideal student, someone who is curious about big things and little details.

I think his study of theater as a way of looking at the world and discovering what is beyond theater," Macvey said. "I think he's an artist in the making."

Moving On

As the two theater students near the end of their time at the university, they hope to use the skills they learned during their undergraduate work to lead them to new careers.

Bradley plans to move back to her home state of California after graduation. She said she would love to start her own theater company, but dabbling in so many different areas of theater made her realize she would be happy doing anything in that world.

She said she values her time at the UI because it allowed her to explore the different areas.

"I've always wanted to push myself and do more and more, and I was always frustrated with my limitations," she said. "But here, I feel like the limitations are much smaller, and I'm given the opportunity to push myself to my own limits and figure out what I can and can't do."

Block, who has lived in the Midwest his entire life, also plans to move to the West Coast, setting his sights on Los Angeles. He said the UI taught him to be conscientious and grasp whatever opportunities come.

"Opportunity is everything," he said. "If there's an opportunity to do something, there's absolutely no reason not to take it, even if you fall on your face."

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