‘Field Below’ offers a unique perspective
Miko Malabute | Monday, April 27, 2015
Before the culmination of the Class of 2015’s Notre Dame undergraduate experience, the culmination of Zachary Wendeln’s thesis will come to fruition in the form of the interactive theatre experience “Field Below,” opening at The Birdsell Mansion, Thursday night at 8 p.m.
“Field Below,” based on Wendeln’s creative writing honors thesis, offers a glimpse into the lives of several members of a 1950s town in Iowa. It explores themes of trauma, betrayal, sexuality and mental illness during that era, an era that Wendeln explains today’s society mostly views through rose-colored glasses as the “golden age” in America.
“‘Field Below’ narratively is a very loose adaptation of the myth of the Rape of Persephone from classical mythology,” Wendeln explains. “In writing [my thesis and the production], I explored two main source texts in which this myth appears: Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’ and ‘The Homeric Hymn to Demeter.’ I then relocated the setting from its original classical one to a fictional 1950s town in Iowa, ‘Ashen Meadows.’”
This production offers a theatre experience with an immersive twist. It’s far more involving than what audience members might ordinarily expect as they are allowed premium access into the lives of Wendeln’s characters. Audience members are flies on the wall; each member can pick and choose which character they choose to follow and where they travel as the narrative progresses. The characters live out their narratives in various rooms throughout the mansion setting.
“Each night,” head of marketing Amanda Bartolini said, “the narrative is performed [thrice], allowing audiences to piece together the story however they choose based on who they follow each loop.
“I think I can speak for everyone involved when I say that we were all drawn to the show due to its unique style of performance, one that we have not worked with at all in our time at Notre Dame.”
The production style Bartolini spoke of offers an exciting take on theatre, diverging from the typical linear, tunnel vision-like plotline to allow for a more personal, intimate experience for each member in the audience according to how they choose to follow along.
“Structurally, ‘Field Below’ is a site-sympathetic and immersive play,” Wendeln explains. “It’s site-sympathetic in that I’ve staged it in a non-traditional theatrical venue [The Birdsell Mansion] but rather than responding to the existing architecture or history of the space, I’ve imposed the world of the play onto the space.
“Immersive theatre simply means the audience is placed in the center of the action, free to roam the various rooms and floors of the space and follow [whomever] they choose.”
Therein lies the most fascinating part of “Field Below” — the audience is not simply the audience, but rather also crucial to the plot of the story they choose to follow. Audience members will be free to roam the three floors and 15 rooms of the mansion. They’ll wear masks as they are moving around freely, pursuing the action which they deem most interesting and most important.
While the audience members are free to roam and follow the story they choose, the actors have a very tightly tracked and scripted narrative track to follow. These tracks are “looped” three times over the course of the performance, so that audience members can follow up to three characters’ stories per night and truly digest what is going on in one character’s life in light of the others’ lives. Furthermore, this style of production truly emphasizes the cyclical nature of trauma, and offers a beautiful take on how connected and interdependent the town members’ lives are with and upon each other.
Opening night for “Field Below” is Thursday night at 8 p.m. at The Birdsell Mansion. Tickets are $12 general admission, $8 for students and $5 each for parties of 10 or more.