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Acting in the dark

BY ISAAC HAMLET | APRIL 30, 2015 3:30 PM

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Having a room full of people staring at you, silently waiting to be entertained, is a deep-cutting fear for some. Even after months of rehearsing, analyzing, and memorizing a script, stage fright can bite the best of us. One wonders how it must feel before performing White Rabbit, Red Rabbit.

At 7:30 p.m. Friday in Riverside Theater, 213 N. Gilbert St., an actor will step onto the stage. Once there, he or she will receive an envelope containing a script he or she has neither read nor performed in the past. From there, reading cold, the actor will act out the script as it unfolds for the first time.

“It asks everyone to take a risk, step outside their comfort zone: the producer, the actor, the audience,” said Jody Hovland, the artistic director of Riverside Theater. “But I think it’s liberating. You can be completely in the moment, discovering the play along with everyone else.”

The featured play, White Rabbit, Red Rabbit, was scripted by Nassim Soleimanpour. After refusing to participate in military service, the Iranian playwright was forbidden to leave the country.

The play premièred in 2011 and has been performed more than 200 times in 15 languages.

“The circumstance of the play appealed to us,” Hovland said. “A playwright who is not allowed to leave Iran who then writes a play that can travel the world without him. The opportunity to host it lets us explore theater at its most stripped down and spontaneous. It’s theater with a focus on the writer’s voice. Add the imagination of an actor and audience, and you have a one-time-only theatrical event.”

The script was engineered with the intent of being performed by an actor who had never seen it before. After being banned from leaving his country at 29, Soleimanpour wrote the hourlong play in hopes that an aspect of his own experiences would be conveyed to those who experience it.

Paul Kalina, a University of Iowa assistant professor of theater, appreeciates undertaking a performance such as this.

“It’s an interesting idea,” he said. “The actor’s going to have miscues and missteps. It would be a lot like survival, entering a fight or flight mindset and having to really work to stay calm.”

Carol MacVey, a UI theater lecturer, said tackling such a show would require an actor to have great deal of trust in the script.

“Being present is the ultimate gift an actor gives to an audience,” she said. “Reminding oneself of that would be important. Experienced actors have a lot of training to shore them up to do these kinds of events, and some amount of confidence would come from that.”

The show demands the actor involved has no previous exposure to the script, so this will be the only opportunity for her or him to read it.

“This isn’t crafting a performance, it’s discovering a piece on your feet,” Kalina said. “It’s a different beast. It would be like comparing William Shakespeare to long-form improv. There might be some similarities, but just because they both take place in the theater doesn’t mean they’re the same thing.”

THEATER

White Rabbit, Red Rabbit
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Riverside Theater, 213 N. Gilbert St.
Admission: $20 to $40


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