Students help construct and create the set as part of a stage construction class. Sabrina Thompson | Mustang News

Cal Poly Theatre premieres its winter production, “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui,” in the Alex and Faye Spanos Theatre March 1 at 8 p.m. The classic Bertolt Brecht play presents a historical story, set in gang-ridden Chicago, about one man’s determination to turn the grocery business into something more.

The play

This show takes place in 1930s Chicago during the Great Depression. As Hitler rose to power in Germany, Arturo Ui rose to power on the metropolitan streets. Ui’s promises of protection to the vegetable growers and sellers becomes a grab for complete power. In typical Brechtian fashion, the play is a satire about the rise of a demagogue, which is relevant to our current political and social climate.

“It’s a play about democracy and leadership, and how do our leaders rise to power that shouldn’t be there? Where is the culpability that’s assigned to that?” director and Theatre and Dance Department Chair Josh Machamer said.

This is one of the largest productions Cal Poly has put on in the last several years with a cast of 20 students. Many of these students take on multiple roles and characters in the production, giving the actors the opportunity to learn about character development and creation. Theatre arts junior Garrett Lamoureux plays eight different roles in the show, challenging himself to create unique personas for each one.

“You really get to dive into how you can change your body physically, you can change your voice, you can change inflection and intent,” Lamoureux said. “And all these characters have such different motivations and are in different scenes. It’s really cool because you take not a whole lot of dialogue and make a radically different character out of it.”

A few of the student actors have their focus on only one character. Perhaps the most important of these is the titular role of Arturo Ui portrayed by sociology senior Daniel Cook. Because of the nature of the show and its social commentary, Cook found his studies in sociology very relevant, as the show discusses the ideas behind how Ui comes to power.

“It’s an analysis of society. We talk about things like power dynamics in sociology all the time,” Cook said. “[We talk about] the different types of power and how people come to power and gaining support from the public.”

Despite the majority of this play’s characters being male, four female Cal Poly students are playing key male roles.

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Video by Kallyn Hobmann

The designs and construction

Working alongside the director are the show’s costume and set designers. Theatre and dance associate professor Thomas John Bernard is responsible for creating the looks of the characters, and theatre and dance assistant professor Brian Healy is in charge of set design, bringing Chicago to San Luis Obispo.

Costume designs by Thomas John Bernard play with color and 1930s class, bringing the characters to life. Sabrina Thompson | Mustang News

The costumes are reminiscent of old mobster movies, with classic suits and trench coats. The color palette for the show includes bright colors to contrast the dark and dim lighting, as well as to distinguish characters by their placement on the color scheme. According to Bernard, the gangsters wear some of the darker reds and blues while the vegetable sellers, who are the opposites of these mobsters, wear brighter colors to highlight the idea of opposing forces.

“The role of costumes is to help the audience understand the character a little better by creating clothes that help define that character,” Bernard said.

Healy uses specific set designs for the play. He wanted to bring to life the iconic L tunnel system the mobsters travel though, which is specific to Chicago. According to Healy, the initial set design for the show came from quotes and images that director Machamer shared with him.

“I started taking those ideas, those quotes and the images he shared with me, and I started pulling images I saw in my mind as I read the play,” Healy said.

This show features many different locations for the 15 scenes, accomplished through moving set pieces and simple furniture. In choreographed scene changes, the audience is taken from the streets to a courthouse in a matter of seconds. Framing the stage are L-shaped portals Healy designed.

Student involvement

As with each main stage production at Cal Poly, students are involved in the production of the show from start to finish. Besides being the actors on stage, students are the ones creating and building the sets and helping with costumes backstage during the show.

One of the most vital roles to a show is that of the stage manager. This person’s job is to help the director in facilitating rehearsals, keeping track of the actors and where they need to be, and calling out lighting and sound cues during the show. They also attend production meetings with the designers and directors, putting their hands in every element of the show. For “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui,” theatre arts senior Daphne Lei has taken on this role.

“Since I’ve been working in the theatre, I have observed stage managers and the role has always interested me,” Lei said. “The amount of responsibilities and the order of organization that needs to take place for [the show] to happen, and since I’m an organization freak, I decided this was a good step up.”

The show will run from March 1-3 with showings at 8 p.m., and March 8-10 at 8 p.m. Tickets are available at, $20 for general admission and $12 for students, children, seniors and groups of 10 or more.

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