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'Martian Chronicles' hits high note at Miami

By Hannah Fierle, The Miami Student

Within the dark confines of Miami University's Williams Hall TV Studio, audience members will embark on a mysterious, intergalactic journey, encountering new territory and species in this weekend's performances of Ray Bradbury's "The Martian Chronicles."

"Words alone cannot describe this type of show," said Lauren Rayner, executive producer of Theatre C. "This is a 'music theatre' experience and truly exemplifies the need for live performance as it's really the through-line of the musical and vocal compositions that will leave audiences members in awe."

According to associate professor and opera director Ben Smolder, the performance employs musical theatre devices, but also operatic roles. The operatic function of the performance is demonstrated in an immersive manner, as the audience will interact by walking around the room and engaging firsthand as they are transported to the surface of Mars.

The performers in "The Martian Chronicles" are Miami opera and musical theatre students.

Theatre C debuted the performance at Ars Nova Theater in New York in February 2015. Miami theatre faculty members and students attended the debut and took part in the post-show discussion with the creators. The writers then expressed their desire to develop the piece in an educational setting, solidifying their partnership with Miami.

"It's been a pleasure and a privilege to develop this show and collaborate with Miami," said Carlos Armesto, artistic director for Theatre C. "This experience has answered a lot of questions we had about the piece in New York by using the resources and environment here at Miami."

The performances this weekend are composed of a three-scene excerpt from the full performance. The workshop style encourages audience engagement with the actors and a full immersion into the performance.

"The workshop format is a protective environment to explore the progress of the work and see some of it on its feet without jumping to full production," Elizabeth Margid said. "It's a great stepping stone to full production and will help artists develop the work."

Margid, a Fordham University professor, wrote the adaptation of "The Martian Chronicles."

The workshop format means that costumes, props and lighting are all kept to a minimum. While usually an integral part of the theatre experience, there will be no visual projections in these performances.

"The Martian Chronicles" was originally published by Ray Bradbury in 1950. The novel is a collection of science fiction short stories about humans leaving Earth to colonize Mars, "The Red Planet," with an emphasis on the tensions and conflicts created as a result.

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"So many of the issues human beings face today, conflicts ranging from geo-political to local … [are rooted] in the way we define those not like ourselves as 'the other,'" said Rayner. "The work approaches these questions in a deeply human way, engages our hearts and minds by drawing us into the lives of dozens of complex characters, both human and Martian."

For musical composer Daniel Levy this show means something special and close to home. Levy graduated from Miami University in 1984 before moving to New York City as a working composer and musician.

"The education I received here has served me well in my profession and it's gratifying to be able to come back and try to give something back to the institution," said Levy. "It's important to me to give back to the students who are performing and to the audience. It's wonderful to be invited back to be able to offer something."

The "Martian Chronicles" will be performed at 6 and 8 tonight and 2 p.m. Saturday.

All performances will be held in Williams Hall TV Studio. Tickets are required for admission, but are available for free.