The play's the thing
The plays were the thing this summer for Christopher Shorr, director of theatre, as he spent five weeks traveling through Eastern Europe and the Balkans visiting two theatre festivals (attending nearly 50 plays) reigniting his creative flame, and absorbing culture.
“Festivals are used to pump up community spirit and regional economy all over,” he says. “Just look at Bethlehem with Musikfest and the Celtic festival.”
Historic Sibiu, (founded around 1100) a city of a little more than 100,000 in Transylvania, Romania, is considered an important cultural center, and was even voted the European Capital of Culture in 2007. In addition to traditional stage performances, street performances, dance, puppet theatre, and exhibitions of photographs and paintings take over the city and surrounding countryside for ten days every June. Performances are even given in medieval fortresses and ancient churches.
One “intense and impressive” shows stands out in his memory: the production of Goethe’s Faust. He speaks of the “sheer enormity of the production” that used a set built in such a way that three stages lined up behind each other. At one point, the audience had to stand and walk through one set along a grassy path into another, gradually making its way into the depths of hell.
Shorr also attended the festival in Belgrade, Serbia, which was focused on using theatre for social action. While there he gave a presentation on establishing a theatre company under challenging situations, such as social unrest, economic difficulties, and racial tensions, as he did in Petersburg, Virginia, about ten years ago.
“We certainly were not in a war-torn area, like Belgrade, but I related our experience in setting up this theatre to say, ‘here’s how we used theatre to help the community through,” he says.
The impact theatres can and do have on the social issues of communities which support them is important to Shorr, and will be a focus of his program at Moravian for the coming year, relating directly to Moravian’s InFocus theme for 2011-2012, “Poverty and Inequality.”
|Street theatre in Romania.
Shorr returned to Pennsylvania newly inspired artistically and enthusiastic about new and different creative approaches to the theatre program...and full of questions: “What can we produce here to begin a dialog,” he asks? “How can theatre be an agent for social change?”
Answering those questions is part of Shorr’s collaboration with Touchstone Theatre, in South Bethlehem—where students work on productions and can intern—and its creative director JP Jordan—with whom Shorr is collaborating on the second part of their episodic musical titled “The Pan Show” which puts the Greek god Pan in a modern setting.
“It’s bawdy and set to Rock & Roll music,” he says. Part one was performed in Touchstone Theatre last spring.
Shorr is working on other local partnerships, including one with the City of Bethlehem. He will direct a play about the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, titled “A Resting Place,” to be produced in April 2012 with Touchstone.
“We want to teach students how to use theatre to improve the world and effect positive change in the community,” he says of this collaboration. They hope to perform similar community-based theatre pieces every three years.
The Moravian College Theatre Company begins its fall season with a Sept. 15 play reading of “A Resting Place.”
Part of MCTC’s Friday Night play reading series, “Tooth and Claw” will be presented on Sept. 30. Written by Michael Hollinger, it is a story about the fragile environment of the Galapagos islands and an “exploration of evolution, extinction, and the struggle for life.” See http://www.moravian.edu/theatre for more information.