BWW Feature: THEATRE ETC! Will Be Bringing Their Touring Production of Orwell's Dystopian Classic 1984 To a City Near You!

BWW Feature: THEATRE ETC! Will Be Bringing Their Touring Production of Orwell's Dystopian Classic 1984 To a City Near You!

Theatre ETC! will be bringing their touring production of the dystopian classic 1984 to a middle school or high school near you soon! This live adaptation of George Orwell's classic novel deals with omnipresent government surveillance, loss of rights, and authoritarian regimes in a thought provoking and often frightening way. 1984's story is as alarming now as it was upon first release and serves as a staunch reminder of what could happen if government control is allowed to run rampant and unopposed.

Upcoming Tour Dates:

February 2nd, 2018 at 9:00 A.M. - Cabell Midland High School (Huntington, WV)
February 9th, 2018 at 9:00 A.M. - Our Lady of Fatima (Huntington, WV)
February 16th, 2018 at 10:00 A.M. - Robert C Byrd High School (Clarksburg, WV)
February 23rd, 2018 at 9:00 A.M. - Logan Middle (Logan, WV)
March 2nd, 2018 at 9:45 A.M. - Capital High School (Charleston, WV)
March 16th, 2018 at 9:00 A.M. - Hurricane High School (Hurricane, WV)
March 30th, 2018 at 9:15 A.M. - East Bank Middle School (East Bank, WV)

Theatre ETC! (Educational Touring Company) has a goal of producing live stage adaptations of literary classics, so George Orwell's dystopian classic 1984 was a perfect fit. Since Theatre ETC!'s formation and inaugural season in 2013, they've produced live adaptations of The Giver by Lois Lowry, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and Antigone by Sophocles.

BWW Feature: THEATRE ETC! Will Be Bringing Their Touring Production of Orwell's Dystopian Classic 1984 To a City Near You!
Managing Artistic Director - Leah Turley

Managing Artistic Director of Theatre ETC! Leah Turley took time to explain to me what Theatre ETC! is, "Theatre ETC! is a class at Marshall University School of Theatre in which students are guided through the design, rehearsal and performance process for live theatrical production." Theater ETC! goes beyond the basics of what many theatre classes cover and instead provides students with opportunities to personally work on every piece of staging a production. Turley explains that her students, "learn to produce live theatre from choosing a title, to performance rights inquiry, set and costume design, prop fabrication, etc. and finally touring and performing at middle and high schools across WV." These school shows are set up to not stretch the budget of the schools they visit, but rather to provide a cheap means of introducing students to the magic of live theatre. "As schools continue to face tighter budgets and diminished resources, we provide quality theatrical performance without the need for expensive and complicated travel arrangements," Turley explains. "For only $5 per student we bring a self-sufficient production that requires no technical support." As for who can book the Theatre ETC! touring groups, Turley says, "We perform in classrooms, cafeterias, gymnasiums and auditoriums for as few as 40 students and as many as a large auditorium can fit."

1984 will tour throughout the Spring semester of 2018 and will be performed at many WV and OH middle and high schools. All productions will include an interactive study guide, post show discussions, free workshops and more to help students understand the intricacies of the story. Theatre ETC! is self-sufficient and requires no technical support. If your school would be interested in having Theatre ETC! perform, you can contact Managing Artistic Director Leah Turley either via e-mail at leahnturley@gmail.com or by phone at (304) 546-3028.

1984 is a thoughtful and often frightening look at what our world could become. The story is set in Airstrip One, which was formerly known as Great Britain. Airstrip One is now a province of Oceania whose citizens are stranded in the middle of an unending war with the government. The story follows Winston Smith (Corey Jones), a member of the Outer Party who works for the Ministry of Truth, tasked with rewriting past newspaper articles to alter facts in support of Big Brother. Fed up with his job, Winston decides to fight back. In his fight against "the man" Winston must find a way to thwart government oppression, authoritarian regimes, and political propaganda all while facing both psychological and physical torture. What follows is a classic and eerily believable story that is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat! 1984 is rated PG-13 and may be unsuitable for younger children.

I had the chance to speak with two stars of the show, Abby Yazvac and Emily Stuck, both of whom are proud members of Theatre ETC! and also serve as prop masters for the show.

BWW Feature: THEATRE ETC! Will Be Bringing Their Touring Production of Orwell's Dystopian Classic 1984 To a City Near You!
Abby Yazvac

I began my conversation with both Abby Yazvac and Emily Stuck by asking how they got involved in Theatre ETC! Abby told me that she "learned about Theatre ETC! from some of the upperclassmen when I came to Marshall as a freshman." Despite her interest, she didn't audition until near the end of her freshman year. "I auditioned for Theatre ETC! and was cast just before my sophomore year." She explained what drew her toward Theatre ETC!'s unique way of producing shows. "The touring aspect of Theatre ETC! excited me. Many of the students who attend our performances do not have access to theatre and may never have seen a play before." But that wasn't the only thing that drew Abby to Theatre ETC!, "Being able to spend more time with one play than we typically do also appealed to me. Theatre ETC! allows actors to spend an entire year rehearsing and performing one play, much longer than our regular season productions which only run for one to two weekends each. This extra time is incredibly beneficial to actors. It gives us an experience much closer to that of professional theatre and allows us to discover ways to keep the material fresh and to perform as if it were still the first time."

Like Yazvac, Stuck had heard about Theatre ETC! from other students who had been involved. She mentions that, "This is Theatre ETC!'s 4th season, so it is fairly new," despite this fact, theatre ETC has become a favorite of many and led to word of mouth which continues to bring new actors out to audition in hopes of participating in this two semester theatre course. Stuck explains that she joined because she thought Theatre ETC! , "sounded fun, and was another chance to get acting time. I value any stage time I can get." She continued on, praising the Theatre ETC! program, "It's a great way to really get to know how to produce your own play with a small group of people."

BWW Feature: THEATRE ETC! Will Be Bringing Their Touring Production of Orwell's Dystopian Classic 1984 To a City Near You!
Emily Stuck

When asked her thoughts on what made Theatre ETC!'s version of 1984 unique, Stuck told me, "Our stage adaptation is cut down so that it only runs for about 50 minutes. However, I think that it follows the book really close, which can give the schools a chance to read the book if they so choose." Stuck mentions the benefits that comes from booking a Theatre ETC! performance for your school, "We provide an in-depth study guide which is e-mailed to the teachers. In the study guide we explain words and phrases that are important." She goes on to give an example, "for this particular show, we have included information on other countries whose governments reflect this type of ruling, with surveillance and types of things like that."

Yazvac also spoke of Theatre ETC!'s mission to educate, "our director chose the adaptation we are presenting with our audience in mind. It is modified to increase understanding for middle school and high school students." Speaking of the different versions of 1984 which exist, Yazvac brings up the critically acclaimed but highly polarizing recent Broadway version which played in New York last year. "I was fortunate enough to attend a performance of last year's Broadway production of 1984. It was incredible but would have been much too intense for our younger audiences. "As for Theatre ETC's take on the story, Yazvac says, "Our adaptation follows Orwell's novel more closely, which is helpful for classes that study the book before we perform at their school. I believe it does a great job of conveying the important messages of the book without focusing on the violent scenes." She explains, "I guess you could say it is tolerably disturbing."

We delved further into the play as Yazvac and Stuck spoke to me about the characters they portray in the show. "I play Parsons," says Yazvac, "In the book and some other stage adaptations, Parsons is man, but in our adaptation she is written as a woman." Yazvac goes on to explain her character in more detail, "Parsons is an obnoxious and fiercely devoted Party member. She loves and worships Big Brother. She's the neighbor of the play's protagonist, Winston. She is also with him at the Ministry of Truth." Despite being portrayed as a loyal Big Brother devotee, Parsons is still fun for Yazvac. "She is one of the most expressive and energetic characters in the play, but it's a complete façade. " Like many characters, her outward appearance hides a deeper fear inside. "For most of the play she appears happy, overly so, but it is only because she is living in a constant state of eternal fear. " This push and pull battle in Parsons has made portraying the character challenging but rewarding. "It's been really interesting to balance those two drastic dynamics."

Stuck's character, while not suffering from quite the same struggle of balance as Yazvac's, is still entwined into the narrative as an important part of the story. "I play the character of Syme," Stuck says, and like Parsons, this role was not originally performed by a female. "The role is originally a male role, but for our production we have changed that." Stuck explains Syme's role in the story, "Syme is in charge of translating old English into what they call Newspeak for the sole purpose of having the ability to control thought." Stuck explains why this job is necessary, "the idea is that it eliminates vocabulary, therefore narrowing the range of thought." In the story Big Brother seeks to control the populace by altering history and Syme plays a role in this alternation, along with the show's protagonist, Winston.

Yazvac tells potential audiences to, "put on your seatbelts and get ready for an often frightening, sometimes disturbing, and always thought-provoking ride. Whether you are familiar with the novel or not, you will see countless parallels to today's world." She wants audiences to know that the cast and crew are well up to the task of bringing this show to life. "Our cast and crew are wonderful. About half of us have returned from last year and our new additions have brought a nice, new energy to the group." Yazvac knows that 1984 has a particular resonance that is important in today's world and ensures the cast will be bringing you the best show possible, "we've all been on our A-game for this play. We all recognize the significance of this story and think it is more important to tell now than ever. It was important to us that we bring justice to Orwell's world."

"The cast and crew is great," says Stuck, "Everyone has worked extremely hard to put together an amazing performance of a show that I believe is very relevant and important today." Stuck feels that this is a story that needs to be told and hopes that audiences find the show to be thought provoking. "I think future audiences should know that 1984 is going to make them think. It is not going to be a show where they can just sit idly, barely paying attention. However, it is exciting, and it is worth it, and hopefully they get something out of it."

When all is said and done, Stuck is just happy to be on stage and to present this classic story. "I'm proud to be a part of a group that can bring theatre to young audiences who otherwise may not have the opportunity to see much of it. One of my favorite things is seeing and hearing the audience's reactions to what they are seeing." Those reactions invigorate Stuck and the other actors, letting them know that their performances are making an impact. "I also love to hear their comments and questions during our talk backs after the show. To know you are helping educate and broaden young student's thoughts is a great feeling."

Like Stuck, Yazvac enjoys witnessing the reactions to their show. "My favorite thing about acting on stage is the immediate feedback I get from an audience. We have had two performances of 1984 so far and both audiences have stayed fully connected with us throughout the entire play. So much so that when we finish the play they aren't quite sure that it is truly over." The show was designed to partially confuse audiences at the end says Yazvac, "We end with a scene that really messes with their heads. It's been fun to watch them mentally unpack everything they have just witnessed."

In closing, I asked both Yazvac and Stuck about their experiences with Theatre ETC!. Stuck explains that Theatre ETC! has been more than just an acting job, it has been a learning experience that will resonate throughout her career, "this not only helps me as a student now, but it will immensely help me after graduating. One of the things Leah (Director) really emphasizes is the importance of creating your own work. This is very true, so Theatre ETC! gives me the skills to be able to graduate and find a group of people who are willing to work hard and produce our own plays to help build our resumes and our experience." She finishes by adding, "Something I specifically love about Theatre ETC! is that although Leah is our director, we all have a say in everything that goes on. We can state our ideas and see if they work." Stuck enjoys this teamwork, "It is all a group effort."

"The education I have received through Theatre ETC! is invaluable," says Yazvac. "I plan on going to grad school for an MFA in acting after I finish my undergraduate degree. Even then, I know that getting work isn't always easy for a new artist." Yazvac believes that the skills she has learned through Theatre ETC! will help put her ahead of the game when she leaves college. "With the skills I have learned through Theatre ETC! I won't have to wait for work to come to me once I graduate. I will be able to begin producing my own works to add to my resume." She finishes her thoughts with her favorite part of Theatre ETC! and acting in general, "The aspect I enjoy most about Theatre ETC! is collaborating with the rest of the cast and crew to create a show that best serves our collective vision. There is no other art form quite like theatre and I feel so blessed that I get to take part in it every day. It's difficult and exhausting work but that just makes the final product all the more rewarding."

Cast and Crew:

Director/Loudspeaker's Voice: Leah Turley
Assistant Director/Big Brother's Voice/Sound: Andrew Durst
Winston Smith: Corey Jones
Julia: Neely Seams
Comrade O'Brien/Goldstein's Voice: Ed Galaviz
Parsons: Abby Yazvac
Syme: Emily Stuck
Gladys/Guard: Cailey Collins
Martin/Guard: Emily Davidson

Richard Allen is a Broadway World contributing Editor for WV and writes about local theatre. You can contact Richard at richardallenwrites@gmail.com.

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