Friday, Sept. 30, 2011

University Theatre in Milwaukee Begins Another Season

Marquette’s LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS begins the university season.

By Russ Bickerstaff
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The crowd at a University theatre show tends to be significantly different than the type of crowd found at other shows around town. There tends to be a far younger crowd at a University show . . . there’s more of a theatrical feel to the house as it is filled with people directly involved with theatre program. Opening night tends to feature people involved directly with the show in question, making it all the more of a concentrated theatre experience. It’s fun going to a show like that in a whole different way than it is going to a non-university show.

 

There I was at the first university show of the year—Marquette’s production of Little Shop of Horrors. Ended up sitting next to a woman who had worked on costuming for the show. And as no one is equipped with earlids (thank you Marshall McLuhan) I ended up having a whole bunch of conversation about the theatre department drift into my skull as the young woman talked about various theatre and non-theatre things with a friend she was sitting next to. 

 

What’s often overlooked in a theatre experience is the people one finds oneself attending a show with—not just the people one brings to the show. And as I find myself attending show alone quite often (occupational hazard) I end up getting a hell of a lot of upper-middle-class baby boomer conversation drifting into my head prior to a show. I’m not complaining about this. It’s actually quite relaxing. (There’s no avoiding it, so it HAS to be relaxing.) It’s just a weird observation. I’m thinking about writing a play entirely consisting of pre-show conversation between upper-middle-class baby boomers. It’d be an interesting exercise, anyway . . . 

 

But there’s a different kind of vitality to seeing a university theatre show. It’s novel enough to be fun. Sometimes one runs the risk of feeling like an outsider at opening night of those shows…people tend to laugh in anticipation of comic moments. It can be kind of disorienting. Someone appears onstage and the audience audibly reacts, but you have no idea who this person is . . . that sort of thing. 

 

That was kind of an interesting experience as well—UWM acting students often show up in other shows. . . there’s a great culture of them going off and starting projects on their own—showing up in other productions around town. Marquette students are different. . . I think it’s a more all-encompassing university culture there (this is counter-intuitive for a whole list of reasons . . . and actually that last sentence is pure speculation. I only know what the culture was like at UWM having personally been an undergrad there.) In any case . . . go to a Marquette show and you end up seeing people there—really talented people that you haven’t seen since the last Marquette show. 

 

In this particular instance, the big flash of recognition came in the form of the woman playing Audrey . . . I’d seen her before, but where? Flip through the program and . . . it’s Alexandra Bonesho—a graduating senior who has been in nearly everything that I remember seeing at Marquette for the last couple of years. Which means that after this year, she vanishes from Marquette. A very talented actress as last night’s performance of Little Shop of Horrors would attest to. 

 

That’s the beauty of going to a university theatre show. There tend to be a few people in any given ensemble who will be staggeringly talented, but likely have no interest in pursuing a career onstage after they graduate (even in dedicated theatre programs, some onstage talent gravitates backstage post-college.) And there are those people who are very talented who end up pursuing acting elsewhere. They vanish and maybe come back later on at some point if they decide they want to be here. It’s that feeling of seeing something temporary brought to the stage by people who may only be temporarily passing through the stage (or the local stage) that ends up being a lot of fun … and not just for people directly involved with a university theatre program. UWM has recently been looking to embrace non-university audiences for its theatre shows. Marquette has started embracing this through its Friends Of Theatre program—a project designed to deliver behind the scenes info and host special theatre events specifically geared towards those audiences ho would generally enjoy what they’re doing onstage who might be hesitant to go to a show by a perfectly entertaining show like Marquette’s musical horror comedy season opener.  

 

Marquette University’s production of Little Shop of Horrors runs through October 9th at the Helfaer Theatre. For ticket reservations, call 414-288-7504. A review of the show runs in the next Shepherd-Express.

 

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