Audience and play's the thing
for unique theater design

"Theater Emory is traveling back four centuries to the glorious age of playwrights to discover the exciting interplay of audiences, actors, theater and great storytelling through the re-creation of an English Renaissance theater," said Vincent Murphy, the theater's artistic director. Starting Feb. 15, audience members can view three renaissance-era plays in a unique setting that allows audiences to sit off and above the stage in the intimate and embracing space for which theaters of the period were noted.

Theatergoers can gain admission to lords' boxes overlooking the stage, benches in the upper and lower tier of galleries facing the stage-where comfortable tradesmen of the day might have sat-or they can sit in the "yard," close to the action and priced for the frugal-minded.

After researching records of the Globe, the Blackfriars and the Rose theaters of the late 1500s, Theater Emory chose to model its design after the latter two. "They are theaters associated with the great plays and playwrights of the period," said Pat Miller, managing director. "The Blackfriars, in fact, had the same dimensions as the theater here at Emory."

The Rose, completed in 1587, was an open-air, polygon-shaped public theater where some scholars speculate that Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part I was first produced.

The Blackfriars was located in a section of a former monastery. It was called a private theater because it had a roof. The company included Shakespeare himself, and it was probably in the Blackfriars that Shakespeare played the Ghost in Hamlet and Adam in As You Like It. Blackfriars is also considered the site of the premiere of The Tempest, which is one of the plays Theater Emory is staging.

Project designer Bill Zimmerman, who has both engineering and theatrical design experience, did not attempt to recreate the historic playhouses. "Rather, [I designed] a structure which captures the essence of the performance conditions of the day, both for the players and the audience."

In addition to The Tempest, a senior honors project of a variation on Hamlet will be presented. Acted and adapted by Ariel Bennet and Daniel Colman and directed by Murphy, Hamlet and Ophelia focuses on the Shakespearean characters whose destinies are shaped by the implications of their fathers actions. The adaptation uses the words written for the two characters plus the speeches of other characters from Hamlet and Ophelia's point of view.

"The Tempest imitates London performances in, say, 1611, by playing Shakespeare's entire text uncut, unbroken by scene changes or modern technological magic under (admittedly simulated) daylight," explained Michael Evenden, Theater Emory's resident playwright. "Contemporary costumes are designed to reveal the histories and personalities of the characters." Theater Emory's production is directed by Murphy as well.

The third repertory offering is John Webster's The White Devil (1621), a Jacobean horror tale. It will be directed by guest artist Ron Wilson who contributed to last fall's production of The Flying Hours: A Restoration Progress, that played to SRO audienes. "I am interested in the pyrotechnics of acting," said Wilson. "And this is a script-indeed a period-that embraces strong emmotional and physical acting."

The renaissance era installation, housed in Mary Gray Munroe Theater, will be up until Thanksgiving.

Theater performances and times

Hamlet and Ophelia
Feb. 15 and 23; 8 p.m.
Feb. 24; 7 p.m.
Free admission
The Tempest
Feb. 20; 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 23, March 1 and 2; 2 and 3 p.m.
Feb 27, March 5 and 7; 8 p.m.

Lords' boxes: $15, general admission
Gallery seats: $12, general admission; $9.50 for Emory faculty and staff, students and senior citizens
Yard "seats": $7, general admission; $5 for Emory faculty and staff, students and senior citizens
Sunday, Feb. 23, only: "pay-what-you-can"

The White Devil
Feb. 22; 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 26, 28, March 1, 4, and 6; 8 p.m.
Ticket prices are the same as above
Sunday, March 2, only: "pay-what-you-can" performance by understudies

For tickets, call 727-5050 or send e-mail to

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