A look at the Spectrum Theatre’s “Arabian Nights”

Spring theater season is in full force around Grounds, with the casts of the drama department’s “Museum” and Shakespeare on the Lawn’s “Titus Andronicus” having just taken their final bows, and First Year Players’ “Kiss Me Kate” a few weeks away. But coming out of one of the University’s smaller theater groups is another student-run effort to help round out the season — Spectrum Theatre’s “Arabian Nights,” the Mary Zimmerman play that opens this Thursday in the Student Activities Building.

“[‘Arabian Nights’] is a show with music and dance in it that’s not what you think of as the traditional musical,” said fourth-year College student Stephanie LeBolt, Spectrum’s artistic director.

Based off of an ancient Arabic tale “A Thousand and One Nights,” Zimmerman changed the original poetry into an enriching, narrative-based show.

“It’s a lot more free form,” LeBolt said. “The actors are on stage for the entire show because it’s a lot about storytelling. [The main characters] will start telling a story, and every time they [do], the story will come to life, so there’s no scene changes or transitions in and out of scenes because it all happens in this kind of dreamlike state.”

The show also offers a unique technical challenge for the organization.

“There are props, but the stage is going to be very static,” said third-year College student Melissa Collins, the technical director. “It doesn’t move around a lot, and everybody is on stage the whole time.”

Collins said the specially-made costumes also weave into the fabric of the show.

“The costumes are going to be very elegant and beautiful, … very specific to the culture, and a lot of it is created by hand,” she said.

The show’s rich feel is difficult to achieve in a generic venue like the SAB, Collins said, adding that the technical crew often tries “thinking outside of the box a lot” to use the space effectively.

“We don’t have a very complex sound system,” Collins said, “so the actors are in charge of bringing sound to the stage on their own, so it’s going to very individualized and specific to the scenes that they’re in.”

Second-year college student Alexis Cooper, the orchestra pit director, is working with only a percussionist, a cellist and a guitarist for the show, but she said she expects the small band of musicians to pack a powerful punch during the performance.

“It’s going to be really interesting for everyone to see the dynamic of the musicians kind of interwoven throughout the show rather than as a separate entity,” Cooper said.

The artistic staff is working hard to promote the show as a celebration of cultural diversity, hosting a special event before the Friday night show with performances from different cultural groups on Grounds.

“We really want to make sure that people aren’t saying ‘this is a Persian show,’ because it’s a show that, at it’s heart, is about storytelling,” LeBolt said.

For members of the organization, the show will serve as a reminder of the endurance of the Spectrum Theatre.

“It just has sort of had a bumpy ride in renewing and sustaining itself,” said fourth-year College student Lauren Lukow, Spectrum’s executive producer, on the recent history of the organization. “I really think this is going to be a sort of new start for Spectrum, and I think it’s going to be great for people to be there for its sort of ‘unveiling.’”

The play will be performed April 3-5 at 8 p.m. in the Student Activities Building.

Published April 2, 2014 in Arts and Entertainment, tableau

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