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The theatre and dance department’s fall production, “CrossRoads,” will hit the stage starting Nov. 14. “It’s unlike anything I’ve ever done,” theatre arts senior Torin Lusebrink said. “You really have to make each character distinct, so you do different things with your body expression, your voice, how you move, how you’ll say a line. For an actor, it’s a lot of fun, and you get to play around with lots of possibilities.”

Aryn Sanderson
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To prepare for the theatre and dance department’s fall production, “CrossRoads,” the cast went the distance … literally.

“The family in the show travels around with this two-wheel cart, so to get the experience of what their traveling was like, we dragged the cart up Grand (Avenue) and down Monterey (Street) and hung out around the Mission,” said theatre arts junior Christopher Riordan, who plays the lead character Tobias.

And it helped.

“We got a lot of weird looks, and most people tried to walk a wide circle around us,” Riordan said. “People were strangely laughing — it kind of felt, not exactly degrading, but like we were being judged, on the verge of embarrassment, which is something the characters go through, this shame of being nomads and vagabonds. It really helped us understand what the characters would be feeling.”

Theatre and dance department professor Al Schnupp, the writer and director of “CrossRoads,” worked closely with the seven-person cast as a method director to help them “find links between the character’s and their personal lives,” he said.

For instance, Riordan’s character, Tobias, is a writer, so Riordan began bringing home the journal his character writes in from rehearsals and journaling as though he was Tobias.

Schnupp encouraged these sorts of connections.

“Being a method director is almost like being a physiatrist,” he said. “I ask the actors to look at how something is in the play and to connect it to a similar situation in their own life. Let’s say there’s a line that’s not working. I don’t tell them how to say the line. But I give them images, or ask them to find a key idea in the line. If it’s about betrayal, I’ll ask them to explore when they’ve been betrayed, when they’ve been lied to, how it felt, what they said and how they said it and make that connection to bring their personal, honest, real feelings into the play.”

Riordan’s character, Tobias, is a playwright who has been banished from the city of Athens, Greece. He and his family — played by students Kimberlee Vandenburg, Devin O’Brien and Jenny Nelson — travel through “the world” of time and space, meeting various characters from plays and history. All of the characters of “the world,” whether merchants on the Silk Road or Vincent Van Gogh’s crazy roommate — are played by three students: Elias Slaman, Torin Lusebrink and Rachel Murphy. Each of the actors of “the world” plays approximately 10 different parts.

“It’s unlike anything I’ve ever done,” said Lusebrink, a theatre arts senior. “You really have to make each character distinct, so you do different things with your body expression, your voice, how you move, how you’ll say a line. For an actor, it’s a lot of fun, and you get to play around with lots of possibilities.”

Despite being a story about time travel, “CrossRoads” is really the tale of family as it “is transformed in the face of the various paradoxical forces of the world,” Schnupp said.

Because of this, it’s deeper than expected — with an off-stage rape, adult language and themes of reconciliation and transformation.

The method directing helped Riordan connect with the emotional, deeper parts of the play — particularly a scene where his character breaks down.

“I, for a long time, was struggling in that moment because I was trying to find a personal connection to that, and there’s nothing that has happened in my life that could compare to realizing you had committed a terrible crime against your family,” he said, “but by really getting into the world of the play and that process and feeling a connection to the characters, it progressed a lot.”

Costumes are by associate professor Thomas John Bernard, and the lighting design is by Clint Bryson, the technical director for the department.

Tickets are $20 for general admission and $12 for students and seniors. The play will be held in Spanos Theatre on Nov. 14-16 and 21-23. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. each night.

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