Spilling across the set is a deep blue fabric, covering everything on the stage. This cobalt draping becomes a character in its own right, signaling the physical and emotional scene changes and interacting with the actors on stage.
What to Do When Stuck in Reality
Tonight and tomorrow at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
This fabric is just one of many creative set designs used in the RC Players’ production of “What to Do When Stuck in Reality.” The show, fully produced and written by students, will run this weekend at East Quad’s Keene Theatre.
“What to Do When Stuck in Reality” centers on a young man who blurs the lines of fiction and real life to overcome hardships. As his daily struggles grow — ranging from a schizophrenic roommate to an unresponsive mother to a non-existent sex life — Kevin, the protagonist, recedes into an imaginary world he’s created as a form of escape.
Director Ellen Sachs, a School of Music, Theatre & Dance sophomore, said the advantages and difficulties of staging such a fantasy-filled show came from working directly with the playwright, LSA sophomore Jacob Axelrad, who serves as community culture editor at The Michigan Daily.
Sachs’s vision proved to be challenging to stage. Her previous work with film had initially interested her in the imagination-rich script, but the complexities of producing a play with film-like nuances quickly became apparent.
“This (story) would work great as a movie, where you have different lenses and filters to show different realities,” Sachs said. “But on a stage, where it’s ephemeral and you only have one shot, it’s a lot more challenging.”
Though there were difficulties with staging, Carisa Bledsoe, the show’s technical director, said the restrictions helped propel the play forward, allowing the cast and crew to solve problems creatively and find imaginative solutions.
One especially novel idea was to cover the entire set in rich blue fabric, thus transporting both actor and audience into another “dimension.”
“Being a student-run production, how do we take big ideas and communicate them in a way that’s budget friendly and also visually appealing?” said Bledsoe, a dual-enrolled sophomore in the School of MT&D and School of Art & Design. “So when (Sachs) told me this idea about incorporating the cobalt blue fabric, I thought, ‘Let’s go big, let’s completely engulf everything and make it a living, breathing set piece.’ The final outcome is really fascinating.”
The visually engaging set created an outlet for the crazy happenings of the show to play out naturally, and it allowed for the actors to bring a high level of hilarity. But Bledsoe explained that the show, though incorporating potentially disturbing elements of fiction, holds an unnerving honesty at its core.
“Michigan students all have this hyper-tension about them — we’re all walking around in a stressful ball,” Bledsoe said. “It’s interesting to see the manifestation of that intense passion, like in the show, because that could be the outcome of so many people.
She added, “At some point you could break and end up at a place where you have these dead bodies that you’re spreading butter on and claiming you are curing cancer,” referring to a scene in the show.
With the help of other dimensions, lunatic tendencies and numerous phone-sex interludes, “What to Do When Stuck in Reality” attempts to answer its own question.