The Newman University Theatre Department season opener “Hay Fever” is said to cause symptoms including uncontrollable giggling, light-heartedness, and, in extreme cases, highly infectious laughter in people of all ages.
“Hay Fever” will be presented at 8 p.m. on Oct. 8, 9 and 10, and at 2 p.m. on Oct. 11. Tickets are $10 for general admission, $8 for seniors and military, and $5 for non-Newman students. Admission is free for all Newman students.
“Hay Fever” is an English comedy of manners set in the 1920s and written by Noël Coward, said Alison Bridget Chambers, director and adjunct theater professor at Newman. It follows the story of the eccentric Bliss family who each invite a guest to their country home for a pleasant weekend without telling the other members of their family, she said.
“It’s full of witty and sharp humor,” Chambers said.
Chambers said bringing the 90-year-old humor to the 21st century has been one of the challenges for her as a director and for the student actors. One of her main goals has been helping her actors understand their characters and find those subtle comedic opportunities.
“You can’t take Noël Coward too seriously, because Noël Coward certainly didn’t,” she said.
Senior theater and education major Mark Carlson plays Simon Bliss. He has been in many Newman Theater productions. Carlson said “Hay Fever” has been a welcome change of pace for him as an actor.
“I’m usually playing a villain or a jerk,” he said. “I like playing a sarcastic artist, though. I see a lot of myself in him.”
Carlson said the show is quite different from the past few Newman plays, “Hamlet” and “Buried Child.”
“It’s a lot more light-hearted and audience friendly,” Carlson said. “It’s fun for all.”
The production is not only different because of the content, but also because of the many faces that will grace the Newman Jabara Flexible Theater stage for the first time. The main cast includes seniors Carlson, Josie Jenkins, and Alison Byrne, sophomore Carlos Sanchez, and freshman students Linnea Ristow, Blake Lee, Nicholas Wynn, Lauren Spencer and Amy Emerson.
Emerson said that although she had not done much acting since middle school, everyone in the cast has been very helpful and welcoming.
“I was kind of nervous at first because I didn’t know anyone, but it’s been really fun,” Emerson said.
Chambers said she has hardly been able to notice the age difference in the cast.
“They are all so professional,” she said. “The freshmen have risen to the level of the seniors.”
Spencer said that she has enjoyed the faster pace of college theater as compared to high school, and the upperclassmen have helped to make that transition easier, too.
“The seniors have a lot of experience, and I’ve got a lot to learn from them,” Spencer said.
Director of Theater Mark Mannette said the freshman student involvement in “Hay Fever” is not just good for the show but good news for the program as a whole.
“I am excited about the future of the program to see we have talent like this,” he said.
Chambers added that the show will be fun for students and faculty of all ages.
“It’s very naughty and sophisticated,” Chambers said.
The Newman Theatre Department 2015-2016 season will also include the 1956 Tony Award winning musical “Damn Yankees,” which tells the story of Joe Boyd, who makes a deal with the devil to help his favorite baseball team win the pennant and finally beat those “damn Yankees.” “Damn Yankees” will be Nov. 19 – 22 in the Performance Hall inside the De Mattias Fine Arts Center.
Next, Newman will host its 5th Annual 24 Hour Theatre Project. At 8 p.m. on Feb. 5, 2016, participants will begin writing new original plays. At 8 a.m. Feb. 6, directors and actors will take the scripts and begin to stage the new plays. Finally, at 8 p.m. on Feb. 6, the plays will be produced in front of a live audience.
In March, Newman will produce Robert Bolt’s 20th century masterpiece, “A Man for All Seasons,” which follows the life of Sir Thomas More, the 16th century chancellor of England who refuses to endorse Henry VIII’s wish to divorce his wife Catherine of Aragon so that he can marry his mistress Anne Boleyn. The play deals with the ideas of identity and argues that a person is defined by his own conscience.
Also look for performances by the Newman University Sloppy Joe Improv Troupe throughout the year and a student directed one-act festival on April 7 and 8.