Monday, September 21, 2009

Citizens, prepare to enter this army’s space

By Jessica Bakeman

A wandering citizen enters a tunnel engulfed in light. The light is overwhelming — to the point where the space is physically hot. Wading his way through the glow, he continues to a door whereupon he is greeted with a calming coolness. Opening another door, he enters a world of dance, a full-blown sequence with bedazzled participants hidden behind high masks, moving to music so loud it rings in his ears. The next tunnel brings him to a battle with a high-voltage fan, where his survival instincts will push him toward the next door, his only goal being to overcome the pressure of his attacker. He is a citizen, an audience observer, and this “happening” is the army’s space.

This is how Christian Amato envisions theatre.

Though the Plattsburgh State senior acknowledges that many would find his imaginings to be no more (or less) than fantastical, this is the theatre experience he wants to create.

“I wish theatre itself could be as advanced as Disney rides,” he said, while blowing away the smoke from a bright red cigarette. “Sounds are turned on and off in your ears, wind gets blown at you so fast that you feel like you’re flying or like rats are running around at your feet. Or the ride takes you into a bakery and you smell the sweet scent of apple pie.”

He sees this theatre army’s environment manifesting itself in the tunnels that connect several dormitory buildings on campus, such as those winding under Banks and Whiteface Halls.

This project, only yet alive in his mind, is one product he hopes to achieve with a new performance group he founded this semester, The Theatre Project.

The group’s mission statement, in Amato’s words, is “that the actor is an ever-growing and ever-evolving being and every production that The Theatre Project does should reflect that,” he said.

Amato said his main motivation for establishing the group was to increase the volume of theatre being done at the college. Whereas the school’s theatre department and the College Theatre Association, another student group, usually put on two main shows a semester, this group will add another.

The other goal of The Theatre Project is to bring theatre to audiences without the exchange of money. Shows will be produced without a budget, and admission will be zip.

The group’s first production will be “Waiting for Godot,” an avant garde Samuel Beckett play “where nothing happens — twice,” the show’s director, Zack Bissell, said.

Amato asked Bissell to direct the show last May, and their original concept was to stage it on the loading dock off of Myers Fine Arts Center with a single light. As the show will go up Nov. 13-15, they decided that the Plattsburgh chill would prohibit an outdoor performance. Instead, the show will be held in the trap room of Hartman Theatre, directly under the stage.

They are doing the show with no budget, but with “calling in favors,” Bissell said. For example, a friend of Amato’s connected them with the New York University costume loft, and NYU will be loaning the costumes for the production at no cost.

“It’s simple; all you need is a tree and a mound,” Amato said, eyeing a moth that had landed on the wall next to him. “The (characters) are vagrants — bums.”

With this, he cupped the moth into his hands and frolicked to the front door, letting it fly away.

“I released a moth back into the wild!” he shouted.

Bissell continued where his friend left off, noting that “Godot” would be more of an environmental piece than a traditional stage production.

“The second you walk into the theatre space, the show starts,” he said. “It’s a living art exhibit. All of the technical aspects of the show will be exposed. Audience members will be able to see actors getting ready, technicians setting up.”

Amato plans to include a ballot in the program for audience members to vote on a future show. For the spring, he is toying with “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” as a possibility.

He will also be directing theatre faculty member Ken Roberts in a production this winter, that will hold performances the first week of classes spring semester. He hasn’t decided on the play yet, but is looking at “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller.

“I’d like to do a classic,” Amato said. “I’m sick of all this modernism.”

Future visions might include a production of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” where the stage and actors are draped wholly in white linen, and the lights change the colors of the stage. He also envisions a 1920s interpretation of Sophocles’ “Ajax,” where characters hint that the title character is a bootlegger during the prohibition era.

“That’s all I got right now,” he said finally with a sigh of creative energy.

Well, that, and a musical adaptation of Disney’s “Hercules,” but under one condition, Bissell said.

“Only if Beyoncé agrees to play lead muse.”

Credit: Logo by Christian Amato, 2009.

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