By Sarah Frick, Staff Writer
In their most recent production, Student Theatre UMF and the Department of Sound, Performance, and Visual Inquiry conquered “Grapes of Wrath” under the direction of Peter Simmel.
As students and community members filed into the dimly lit Alumni Theatre they were greeted by folk music appropriate for the Great Depression period. The open, and exposed stage offered a preview for what was to come, and eventually an up close and “in the action” view of the actors. The props, other than a life size pick-up truck, were simple, effective and conducive to the reality of the troubled Joad family attempting an escape from Dust Bowl Oklahoma to the promise land of California.
The actors themselves had a huge job to do. Not only did they have to act their parts, they had to keep in mind their props as well as work in sync with the incredibly talented light and sound crew (led by Stan Spileck and Drew McLain) to sync sound effects, like water being poured into the river, to their actions.
Notable performances included the Joad’s family leader, Tom, played by Austin Hayes. Hayes managed to expose Tom’s hidden anger slowly and effectively while managing to make him likeable to the audience. Matt Buckley, Shelby Thibodeau, Greg McElvaine, John Levenseller, Jade Wells, Richard Russell, Kyle Morrison, and Nathan Sylvester made up the bulk of the Joad clan and all balanced the hidden frailty and obvious strength in their characters through their acting skills.
Some members of the group including Robin Lisherness and Ashton Carmichael had the difficult task of playing multiple roles throughout the performance but they succeeded in complete transformations which led playgoers like Victoria Alagna to question “Wait is that the guy from before?”
In addition to various community members, relation to the cast and crew sparked some attendance of the audience. Parents, family, and friends rallied around their performers to support them in their venture. Cailea Higgins and two of her friends explained, “We’re here to support our friend Matt,” then proudly said, “You can’t miss him!” Evidence of this support was clear. Among the attendees, the seats were filled with students who looked for friends’ and classmates’ names in the program and parents who discreetly snapped pictures during the show.
These supporters have good reason to be proud; UMF’s theatre program has a history of alumni success. STUMF President, Aaron Watson pointed out that three recent graduates have gone on to launch their careers in the world of theatre and acting. Watson himself, though still a student, has begun working as both an intern and company manager at Lewiston’s Public Theatre. “The theatre program here is very special to me,” said Watson, “UMF has produced some very great students from its theater program, because we run it very similar to a professional theater.” This sense of preparation for the professional world of acting shines through the company’s performance making their work more than a school production and turning it into a quality piece of art.
Stay tuned for STUMF’s next production, which will happen sometime next semester. Though the piece has not yet been decided, Watson mentioned, “Jayne Decker, a theater professor at UMF will be selecting the show, but students have a lot of input in this process, from suggesting shows, or sometimes even helping to narrow down the selections.”
The success of the production heavily relies on the support of the audience. Besides a Haunted House fundraiser, ticket sales form the bulk of the budget allotted to the group. The audience is not just giving, they are getting what student Chantal Duchaine described as an “Always well produced, well directed show, with great performances from the actors.”