Last week, a theatre company I work for was bestowed a most prestigious honor. We were invited to perform our latest production titled Three Generations of Imbeciles at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. Before you get really excited, no we did not go to the Kennedy Center. The American College Theatre Festival is sponsored by the Kennedy Center and at one time, the national competition would be held there. We were sent to a regional competition in Michigan and the theatre you see pictured above is the Malcolm Field Theatre at Saginaw Valley State University.
However, my college is not your average college. We are a two-year facility and were were competing against five other four-year universities with graduate programs. The biggest honor a two-year college could hope for. In thirteen years, our college has never been invited to perform.
Three Generations of Imbeciles is a new work that follows the story of a young lawyer named David as he fights for a young girl names Abby and her right to procreate. It’s based in the late 1920s when the Eugenics movement was at its peak in America. To learn more about Eugenics, see A Dark Part of History.
Three Generations began for me in June of 2011 when the design staff met for the the first time to discuss bringing this play to life. It was to be a world premier and it was very important to us that the play flowed consistantly as it is written more like a screen play than a live performance. There are several locations within the play, and the need to make scenic shifts quick and painless was very important to us. We decided to make as minimal scenery as possible and take the Bertolt Brecht approach to the acting, allowing actors in the jury and witness boxes to remain on stage and unlit during scenes when we were not in the court house. Ultimately this worked to our advantage in the end.
After two months of building the scenic elements, lengthy discussions of lighting and sound cues and rehearsing with actors, we went into technical rehearsals. One week prior to the show opening its doors to the public all scenic, lighting, sound, props and costumes are methodically woven into the production and rehearsed.
After two weeks of performances, we were adjudicated by two respondents for the regional festival in Michigan. We were amazed at the incredible feedback we were given. It was a glowing review of our work and we all left with a great sense of accomplishment. We waited a month to get the restults and finally we learned we were invited to bring our production to Michigan.
Now, the real work began! It is one thing to build a show for your home theatre, it is another to take it on the road. In addition, all the actors would need to be accounted and accommodated as well as the production staff. Several meetings and a few rehearsals later, we all came together once more to rehearse our day at the festival.
We would have a rehearsal at 11am, then from 2pm to 6pm we would put up the set and load-in lighting, sound, costumes and props. One hour for dinner, then we would return at seven to preset and perform the show at 8. Immediately following the performance, we would have one hour to clear the stage of the production and load the truck.
We rehearsed this day two times to accurately prepare ourselves the the challenge that lay before us.
When we reached Michigan we were a well oiled machine, we dominated the stage, not needing the full four hours for our load-in and ultimately releasing people early for dinner. At 7:30 the evening of our final performance, we filled a 600 seat house. When the lights went down and our performance began those 600 people were silent. You could hear a pin drop. The actors took to the stage and within moments, everyone knew we meant business The audience was with us every step of the way. Reports came in later that there wasn’t a dry eye in the house that night.
The following day we were adjudicated again on both the technical side and the performance side. Again we were giving praise and finally departed Michigan knowing we had done something only few people get to do in their lifetime.
While we did not win an award at the end of the event, we came away knowing that we are strong. In a five state region, we were one of six that was asked to perform. That is a rare honor and we are all better and stronger because of it.
I thank you, cast, crew and staff of Three Generations of Imbeciles. It was a wild ride!