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Our Town Preview

Emily LeStrange | Monday, March 30, 2009

Starting on Tuesday, the Department of Film, Television and Theatre (FTT) will begin the six-performance series of Thorton Wilder’s “Our Town” at the Decio Mainstage Theatre. Jay Paul Skelton, an FTT assistant professor for the University and the producing artistic director for the Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival, directs the play. “Our Town” was written by American playwright Thorton Wilder. Set in the early 20th century, “Our Town” tells the story of the fictional community of Grover’s Corner in the rural area of New Hampshire. Primarily, the dialogue consists of exchanges between two families, the Webbs and the Gibbs. The story specifically puts focus on the marriage between the children of the two families, George Gibbs and Emily Webb. Wilder isn’t afraid to use his characters to interact with audience, as seen in the role of the Stage Manager. The Stage Manager frequently takes questions from the audience, gives further detail about the setting, and makes key observations that connect the seemingly simple plotline with greater human emotions. The Stage Manager also appears throughout the play in various small roles, including as an old woman and as a preacher.Wilder was very specific in describing how “Our Town” must be performed, using methods that were quite revolutionary during his time. The play contains very little scenery, no set and only makes use of three types of props throughout the entire show: ladders, tables and chairs. Says Wilder, “Our claim, our hope, our despair are in the mind – not in things, not in ‘scenery.'” Part of the reason why “Our Town” has remained relevant to society since its 1903 beginning is because it’s central themes revolve around the daily routines and activities of a family. The play is divided into three acts that are titled “Daily Life,” “Love and Marriage” and “Death and Eternity,” respectively. Wilder’s play is a timeless classic because it depicts a familial lifestyle people can relate to still today. “Our Town” uses it’s characters to show that everyday events can reveal universal truths about our human existence. Through charting the lives, loves and heartbreaks of the characters, “Our Town” celebrates the humanity in us all. In 1938, “Our Town” received the Pulitzer Prize in the drama category. Since then, the play has earned awards for big-time showings, including two awards in 1989 – The Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Revival, and a Tony Award for Best Revival. In addition to using student actors, Skelton has cast members from the South Bend community for the production. As quoted in the South Bend Tribune, Skelton said, “My philosophy since I got here has always been to bring different groups together toward a common goal … ‘Our Town’ lends itself to community. I thought, ‘What a great opportunity to bring more folks into the process.'”Skelton introduces his own take on the production of “Our Town” by doing away with shoes for the actors and using lighting typically used for dance performances. “We are doing it in bare feet,” he said. “We are using light that is considered more appropriate to the dance world. … My hope is that this will create a more dynamic sense of movement in space, more presence on the part of the actors and an overall sense of being grounded.””Our Town” begins Tuesday, March 31 at 7 p.m. and runs through Sunday, April 5. Tickets are $15 for general admission and $10 for students.