Abby Leyh, a junior technical and design theatre major, has lost count of how many times she’s seen her own performance of “Company.”
After thinking for a few more seconds, she reached a conclusion that lands her view-count somewhere in the mid-forties.
Continuing to celebrate the works of avant-garde absurdist Samuel Beckett, Rowan’s Department of Theatre and Dance hosted a unique performance of his 1980 short-prose piece “Company.” By inviting audience members to experience it blindfolded and on their backs, as if going to sleep, actors engaged with the audience by whispering their lines directly into their audience’s ears.
“There are ‘angels’ – they’re the actors,” Lyeh said, “who whisper the prose into your ears along with four other main voices who represent intellect, spirit, body and memory.”
Lyeh served as stage manager for both Beckett performances hosted by the university this week, in coordination with her program of studies. After traveling to and performing shows in Provincetown, Massachusetts and Philadelphia for the past two weeks, she feels pretty familiar with the work of the Irish writer.
“A lot of people think of it as what goes through your brain when you’re going to sleep,” Leyh said. “Samuel Beckett was probably intending what goes through your brain right before you die.”
Luckily for fans of the Beckett festival, department faculty with experience with Beckett’s work have guided this performance since its inception.
“A long time ago in California,” Leyh said, “[Acting Program Coordinator] Lane Savadove, who is one of the professors here and also owns a theater company in Philadelphia, took the piece and turned it into a radio play, and then said, ‘huh, why don’t we also do this live?'”
Thus was the conception of the immersive theater experience that Leyh, as well as the actors involved in the performance, brought to life. However, more recent revisions have given the performance its own sense of identity.
“We basically went back to its roots and revised the script from scratch to create what’s happening tonight,” Leyh said. “All the student stage managers are assigned shows. I was assigned the first main-stage production, which is ‘Breath,’ the Samuel Beckett collection that we did upstairs this weekend, and ‘Breath’ was a partner show with this.”
While traveling to Philadelphia and Provincetown, Leyh’s responsibilities included taking care of all of the actors and ensuring that travel went smoothly over 15 shows each week Thursday through Sunday, for two weeks. At the shows themselves, her roles included making sure that those who no longer wished to be part of the performance made it out safely.
“People get a little nervous,” Leyh said, referring to members of the audience who may not know what to expect.
However, for audience member and freshman theater major Natalie Mullanaphy, the build-up to viewing “Company” was one of excitement rather than anxiety. After viewing “Breath” the day before, Mullanaphy’s exposure to Beckett had begun as a positive one.
“I know a lot of people in the cast, so I was very excited to see it,” Mullanaphy said. “I also think that Samuel Beckett’s works are really interesting. I’m really excited that this is an immersive performance where the audience is just as involved as the cast is. I’ve never been to a show like that before.”
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