Theatre department to debut latest play Wednesday
By Hannah Fierle, For The Miami Student
Unique, dynamic and provocative are words used to describe "In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play," written and directed by Ann Elizabeth Armstrong, performed at Miami University beginning Wednesday.
Taking place in the late 1800s, "In the Next Room" sheds light on the beginnings of electricity and modern medical treatments, as well as the skepticism and tension of society that accompanied them. When a doctor prescribes a controversial remedy to treat his female patients' hysteria, the boundaries of intimacy, sexuality and relationships are compromised.
The performance creates a unique dimension in that the stage is split into two distinct rooms separating the characters - a living room and a doctor's office. As the plot builds, the respective characters develop a growing curiosity as to what is happening "in the next room."
For this uniquely structured play, an emphasis is placed on behind-the-scenes lighting, set design and costuming.
"Because of the split stage, we wanted to use lighting to create two very different spaces," said senior Emma Crowe.
Crowe and her team of students knew how important the lighting would be to enhance the action and set the mood.
For the living room, Crowe strived to create a warm, comfortable environment, while the doctor's office was designed to create a feeling of tension and uneasiness with bright, harsh lighting.
Using the computer program, Vectorworks, Crowe was able to virtually place each of the hundreds of lights in a projection of the theatre and program the effects of each. She instructed a crew of students on the logistics and safety precautions of assembling lighting, then helped with the execution of her design.
Crowe says she took some artistic liberties with the lighting during the moments of paroxysm. To create a variety during these personal experiences, effects like LED lighting and flickering lights were utilized.
Student composer Anthony Thompson, along with composer and pianist Victoria Slabinski on cello, stressed that all of the original music was created by second-year students, improvisational yet inspired by traditional music of the 1890s.
"This production is unique in that it takes place in a time period much older than other plays I've been involved with, but its themes and ideas about sexuality, relationships, race and technology couldn't be more relevant to our world today," said Thompson. "Taking place in the late 19th century, this play transcends time unlike any show I've worked on before. It makes us look at the present in a brand new light."
Costume designer Melanie Mortimore focused on the time period to create costumes that reflected not only the era, but also the mood and characters' class.
This task proved challenging as traditional clothing for the late-1880s involved many layers and underclothes, like petticoats, corsets and chemisettes.
Because the costumes were exemplary of the time period, all of the clothing needed to be designed from scratch, unlike outfits for more modern shows, which could be purchased.
Additionally, to accommodate quick changes, Mortimore had to design costumes that were easy to put on and take off.
"Because many of the costume changes happen onstage, we had to put more thought into the underclothes and other small details that might not matter in other shows," said Mortimore.
In total, Mortimore and her team designed over 20 intricate costumes, each of which takes more than 40 hours of labor to put together.
"Hopefully, the costumes are able to convey what life was like at the turn of the century," said Mortimore. "We wanted them to be realistic. The color and style really reflect the personalities of the characters and what's happening in the show at each point."
"In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play" will be performed at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 21-24 and 2 p.m. on Oct. 25 at the Gates-Abegglen Theatre in Miami University's Center for the Performing Arts.
Audience members under the age of 18 will not be permitted without parental consent. Tickets are $12 for adults, $9 for seniors and $8 for students.