While waiting in line at a concert, have you ever encountered a pair of students performing a scene from “Hamlet”? On the way into a UMS performance, when was the last time you watched an interview with the director projected on the side of the building? If you arrive early at the Arthur Miller Theatre to claim front-row general admission seats for “Playing for Time,” you’re guaranteed to receive a bonus performance called “The Edge of a Word,” a collection of both physical and symbolic dramas indirectly related to Miller’s play.
“Edge’s” six dramas and two audio/visual pieces take place in and around the Arthur Miller Theatre lobby, entertaining (and baffling) incoming audience members.
“People have been startled, asked questions of the actors while they’re acting, stopped dead in their tracks to watch or just completely ignored what was going on,” Music School junior and director Hailey Agnew said in an e-mail interview.
The idea for “Edge of a Word” came from Music School costume designer and producer Christianne Myers, who wanted to “celebrate the opening of the space itself.” The Arthur Miller Theatre stands as a tribute to one of America’s greatest playwrights and one of the University’s most famous alums, but the theater’s opening commemorates the new building itself as well. Myers’s idea for “Edge of a Word” riffs on the heart of the events.
“This show didn’t start with a page. It started with a space instead of a script,” Myers said.
Within this space, student theatre complements professional theater in a nontraditional way. Agnew’s piece, “Abigail’s Overture,” a reworking of a speech from Miller’s “The Crucible,” takes place beneath the lobby staircase. Outside, Music School senior Stephen Sposito’s video interview with the production crew of “Playing for Time” is projected on a wall to the left of the main doors. Though the late sunlight hours made it too bright to see the video, the audio could be heard perfectly.
In the Walgreen Drama Center elevator, there’s Music School senior Beth Chrobak’s audio clip playing. Chrobak’s idea to merge several Miller texts and combine student voiceover with music supports what Miller himself always wanted: to create “A Few Good Parts for Actors” (also the name of the piece).
On the front patio and throughout the lobby, eight actors perform five brief selections from Caryl Churchill’s “This is a Chair,” directed by Music School junior Gina Rattan. The piece expresses the feeling of wartime perseverance, similar to the theme of “Playing for Time” itself. The “Chair” selections involve only one or two actors each and are performed uncomfortably close to the incoming audience. “There’s a real audience-performer proximity that makes this show different,” Rattan said. “You don’t know what to expect from the audience.”
Audience members aren’t so sure how to react either, but their experience is sure to be a unique one.
“The opening of the Arthur Miller Theater is the celebration of the space,” Myers said. “‘Edge of a Word’ is a chance to do something theatrical that’s not in a theater.”
There are a limited number of seats available for the Friday and Saturday performances of “Playing for Time.” Call 734-764-2538 for more information.