By Sue Botos
The construction project at Rocky River High School may be posing some logistical challenges, but for student actors, the work has presented an opportunity for a unique presentation.
Neil Simon’s dramatic farce “The Dinner Party” will be performed in the style of black box theater, which allows for closer interaction between the actors and audience.
Drama teacher and theater advisor Jennifer Garver explained, “Instead of traditional seating, the audience is within 20 feet of the cast, eliminating the disconnect between the stage and the audience that results from the orchestra pit and height of the stage.”
A recent look at the set revealed the traditional auditorium stage divided in half, with one side containing tiered seating for 90 to 100, and the other side the small set. Garver said that the stage curtain will be closed for a more intimate feeling.
“It makes sense to do this because of the construction, but we also like to challenge our cast and crew in other ways,” said Garver. Due to work being done on a new music wing, the present auditorium is serving as the band and choir area. Garver said, however, that equipment will be moved to make way for the traditional spring musical.
“We’ll find a way to make it work,” she said.
The term “black box theater” stems from a movement in the 1960s and 1970s which actors used just about any venue for performances. Garver explained that this was a way to make theater available to people who could not afford high ticket prices.
“The Dinner Party” is an unusual production which, according to Garver, lends itself well to this setup. The play centers around six people – three divorced couples – who are invited to a dinner party at a formal Paris restaurant. Their host invited them anonymously and may or may not be one of the guests. The mixture of farce and drama adds challenge to the six actors, and the swift change from farcical to serious will showcase their talents in a different way than a single-genre production would, noted Garver.
This type of seating provides the opportunity to watch the actors up close as well as a chance for the students to get close to their audience. “It will be more of a challenge for them to stay in character. We could have moved things around and used the traditional stage, but I always want to challenge them,” Garver noted.
These thoughts were echoed by student actor Loren Reash-Henz, who plays Claude, a “control freak husband.”
“The first time you make eye contact with someone in the audience will be hard,” the senior admitted. “It will be different; you’ll get to see people’s reactions,” he added. Reash-Henz said that this type of production will be more fun than the traditional play, which places a “fourth wall” between actors and audiences.
“You can really connect with the audience this way,” he said, noting that during his spoken “asides” he will actually be talking to viewers and feeding off their energy.
“We’re always open to trying new things. We don’t want to do any two shows in the same style,” said Garver, adding that this unusual theater experience will look good on a student’s resume. Many times, colleges will do similar experimental theater she said. For the cast and 30 crew members, according to Garver, this is a unique opportunity to hone skills in set design, organization, memorization and group dynamics.
Garver said that advance ticket sales have been good and that people are looking forward to the experience. “The Dinner Party” opens tonight and runs today (Oct. 20) and Saturday (Oct. 22) at 7:30 p.m. (There will be no Friday performance due to the football game.) Tickets cost $6 for adults and $4 for students. Senior citizens and children under 5 are free. Call 440-356-6800 to order tickets.