Experimental Wall-to-Wall Theatre Festival comes to Walgreen Drama Center

Monday, March 21, 2016 - 5:52pm

On Saturday and Sunday at 7 p.m., the Walgreen Drama Center on North Campus will transform into a diverse performance space. Walking room to room, audiences will move between the worlds of Shakespeare and Greek tragedy, experiencing dance performance, musical theatre and the original works of University of Michigan students.

The Wall-to-Wall Theatre Festival is three years old and producer, director and LSA graduate Clare Brennan has been involved since its inception. According to her, the festival serves as an opportunity for students to see a variety of different genres of theatre in one night.

“We have nine pieces, all being performed in different spaces in the Walgreen Drama Center,” Brennan said. “They’ll be in the lobby, they’ll be in classrooms, some pieces will be in hallways or in small practice rooms. Audiences show up at 7 p.m. and they can go to any of these nine pieces, and then see another show after the piece is done. So you can see five or six shows over the course of the night.”

Brennan’s piece is an original work, an amalgamation of 10 of Shakespeare’s sonnets. She and her cast wove the sonnets together and created a storyline that links them, a romance that falls apart. Film work and other media are incorporated into the live performance as well.

Producer and School of Music, Theatre & Dance senior Allyssa Powell has also been involved in the festival since its beginning. Powell said the idea for the festival originally came from School of Music, Theatre & Dance graduate Neal Kelley.

“It started as kind of a passion project, and we involved people who had something they’ve been dying to perform,” she said. “It’s a very unique experience, and it’s one of a kind on this campus. It’s really cool to walk in the door and not know what to expect.”

Something that makes Wall-to-Wall unique among on-campus theatre productions is the concept of “roaming theatre.” The nine, 25-minute acts perform in different parts of the Walgreen Center and audiences roam the building, moving from act to act. School of Music, Theatre & Dance junior Leia Squillace, whose piece will be formed on the grand staircase in the lobby of the Walgreen Center, called the festival “site-specific,” emphasizing the importance of the diversity of performance spaces to this event.

“Wall-to-Wall really breathes this air of experimentation,” she said. “You’re forced to be experimental because you’re not in a conventional space. You have to figure out how to use that space to your advantage, and I think the shows that are the most successful are the ones that embrace that space for what it is, as opposed to trying to navigate around it.”

Squillace is involved in Wall-to-Wall for the first time this year. She is directing a 25-minute condensed version of “Trojan Women,” a Greek tragedy originally written by Euripides and translated into modern English by Ellen McLaughlin. This translation was created in collaboration with a group of female refugees from the Bosnian War, and Squillace said the themes of community and how communities support each other through tragedy are important to her piece.

School of Music, Theatre & Dance junior Larissa Marten also emphasized the opportunity for experimentation afforded by Wall-to-Wall. Marten will be performing a 25-minute excerpt from an original one-woman show called “I Killed the Cow,” which she has been working on for six months.

“Each night you get to do your show four or five times, so you get really great feedback on what sections work, what part of your writing lands, what part of your writing doesn’t land,” she said. “So it’s great from my perspective as a workshop learning experience because you get to do your show so many times after another. And because the sections are so short, I feel like, especially for students, it’s a really great opportunity to create work, because it’s not that big pressure of ‘Oh, I have to create a full length show,’ and that’s why I think students really flourish.”

Marten said her piece will involve a large amount of audience participation. She aims to get her audience to think and talk about their memories of sex and to “take sex out of the dark.”

“The piece I’m performing is called ‘Lost, Shared, Taken,’ ” Marten said. “It’s centered around the idea that, today, sex is not talked about enough for people to really feel comfortable. It’s the idea of how we become the sexual beings that we are.”

Other performances include “Good Intentions,” a satirical work directed by School of Music, Theatre & Dance sophomore Sam Hamashima and “By Candlelight,” a performance by student dance group Sitelines, directed by School of Music, Theatre & Dance junior Ellen Wallace. This diversity of performances, Squillace said, allows the festival to make theatre accessible to everyone.

“For people who don’t like theatre or aren’t typically exposed, I just think it’s the most genius idea,” she said. “One, it’s free, so no consequences. Two, you can stay as long or as short as you want.”

Powell agreed that Wall-to-Wall has a unique ability to share new pieces and kinds of theatre, even to theatre junkies.

“It’s another way of arts education and instilling the arts in people’s lives, because that is often not the case,” she said. “It’s exposure to art forms you’ve never heard of, but also stretching the idea of what theatre can be.”