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Letter Home, Fall 2008
Student Life: King William's Players
The St. John's College theatre troupe is mounting not one, but two ambitious productions this fall, with both plays relating to Program works read in sophomore and junior year.
The cast of the King William's Players production of J.B.
The King William's Players are one of the oldest student groups on campus. They take their name from King William, for whom the college's progenitor, the King William School, was named. The theater troupe is also one of the most time-consuming endeavors for students who commit to acting, set design and staging, costume design, directing, and production.
J.B. by Archibald MacLeish, which was performed this past weekend, is a modern-day retelling of the Book of Job from the Old Testament. Racine's Phèdre, which will be performed in December, is translated from the French during junior year, and is an adaptation of another program work: Euripides's Hippolytus.
The MacLeish play is set in a circus, where two vendors take on the roles of God and Satan as they watch Job and his wife Sarah suffer. Performing in a Program-related work gives students a deeper understanding of themes raised by works such as the Book of Job. Sophomore Brendan McGivney, who took on the title role in J.B., said rehearsals and performances took much of his free time this fall, but the experience was more than a diversion. At the same time he was playing a modern-day Job, he was reading about Job in seminar. "Now the Book of Job seems so much more multifaceted to me," he says. "It isn't just a story about a man who is questioning why God makes him suffer. My reading of Job became more personal."
Theater at St. John's is a community effort: more than 50 students are involved in both productions as cast and crew. Students who are interested in theater can take part in drop-in theater workshops, taught by students. Classes thus far have focused on contact improvisation, a unique exercise designed to teach participants about body awareness, spontaneity, and dynamic interaction between partners. Future workshops will feature every aspect of theatrical production, including script writing, directing, acting, and costuming in order for students to create one-act shows for a festival that will be held for the whole community. Other possible future workshops will be on more specialized elements of theater, such as stage combat, musical theater, Shakespearean diction, circus arts, accent work, and mime.
Phèdre, written by the 17th-century French dramatist Jean Racine, tells the tragic story of a queen who falls in love with her stepson. The King William's Players use the translation of Phèdre by American novelist Robert Boswell. "Racine's interpretation of the myth reflects a shift from ancient Greek theatrical thought to the more modern context of 17th-century France," says senior Melinda Carrera, the play's director. "Racine's classical education provided the framework for this transformative exploration of an age-old story."
Carrera says she hopes to convey the duality of the characters. "Each one is sympathetic and deserves our pathos and forgiveness, and yet none are so innocent that we may not find the root of this tragedy in the cumulative effect of their flaws," she says. Phèdre will be performed at 8:15 p.m. Friday, Dec. 12; 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 13; and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 14. All performances are free. For more information, visit the college website.