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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

From opera to smash hits to Shakespeare: An ambitious term for Carleton theater

<st few weeks of the new academic year hurtle by, Nourse Hall is buzzing with action, from the din of construction (a source of lamentation to its residents but one of promise to prospective science majors), to the bustle of first-years trekking to their language classes in the LDC, to the auditions and early rehearsals for this term’s Experimental Theater Board (ETB) productions.

Carleton ETB is a non-departmental theater group run entirely by students. Typically producing two to four shows per term, ETB provides opportunities for its participants to engage with theater outside of the classroom and for its mostly-student audiences to see what kind of work their peers are putting into the world. This term, ETB is putting up two deeply different shows: Doubt, A Parable and Sāvitri.

Sāvitri, which will be directed by Ian Bell ’21, is a one act chamber opera with music and libretto by Gustav Holst. Holst’s Sāvitri is adapted from the story of Sāvitri and Satyavan from the Mahābhārata, one of two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India. Toward the end of the 19th century, Holst became interested in Hindu philosophy and literature, writing librettos for two operas about Hindu subjects, Sita and Sāvitri.

Running only about half an hour and requiring only two string quartets, a double bass, two flutes, and an English horn rather than a full orchestra, Sāvitri differs vastly from Sita, its longer and more lavish counterpart. In this fall’s production, Bell plans to modify the staging specified in Holst’s libretto, aiming to more firmly contextualize the spiritual elements of the piece and accentuate the story’s roots in the Mahābhārata. “Though it is difficult to produce and often abstruse, the grandeur of opera gives us an opportunity to give mythic stories their due in a way no other form of theater does,” Bell said. “Opera comes closest to its potential when given stories that push the boundaries of the real, because anything less can become ridiculous in such an intense medium. In short: Sāvitri needs opera, and opera needs stories like Sāvitri’s.” It’s a rare treat when ETB takes on the challenge of a musically-driven piece; this term’s production of Sāvitri, running eighth weekend in Little Nourse Theater, is not one to miss.

This term’s second ETB production, Doubt, A Parable, is directed by theater arts and statistics double major Jez Bigornia ’20. Doubt, A Parable, a 2004 play John Patrick Shelly, is set in 1964 at a Bronx catholic school, where principal Sister Aloysius suspects popular parish priest Father Flynn of molesting a student. Doubt, A Parable originally premiered Off-Broadway in November 2004, transferring to the Walter Kerr Theatre on Broadway in March 2005. Doubt, A Parable won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play and was later adapted into an Academy Award-nominated film. With his production of Doubt, A Parable, Bigornia seeks to highlight the intersections and conflicts between arguments founded on hard facts and those rooted in speculation or spirituality. “I want to put on Doubt because it challenges the audience to think about how far they are willing to suppress their doubts to get what they want or to get their messages across,” Bigornia said. “When confidence turns to desperation, when we do more harm than good, should we let our doubts stop us from acting?” Doubt, A Parable will run ninth Thursday, Friday and Saturday in Little Nourse Theater. It will be exciting to see how ETB tackles such a prominent piece in modern American drama.

In addition to ETB shows, this term will also feature a Carleton Players production, Shakespeare’s As You Like It. The Carleton Players typically puts on one major faculty-directed production each trimester. This term, however, in the absence of Roger Bechtel, one of just two professors of theater at Carleton, the Players show will be directed by visiting artist Taous Khazem. Khazem, a graduate of Macalester College, has worked internationally as a creator, director, and teacher of theater in Algeria, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, France and Cameroon in addition to her work in the Twin Cities. Khazem previously directed Good Kids at Carleton in 2018. Her recent experience with the Carleton Players is sure to set Khazem up for another strong production, and it will be intriguing to witness how her Lecoq-training and expertise in physical theater manifest in a Shakespeare piece. Performance times for As You Like It are October 19, 20, 25 and 27 at 7:30 PM and October 21 at 2:00 PM in the Weitz Theater.

This fall is shaping up to be a dynamic term for Carleton theater, with three incredibly different productions. The juxtaposition of these unique shows will showcase the range of the college’s student artists.

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