This year’s fall play is different.
When Summit High School’s Department of Performing Arts technical director Scott Porter sat down with Josh Blanchard and Tim Paré, of the Lake Dillon Theatre Company, to choose what type of play to perform, they decided on a change — and a challenge.
The students will be performing two acts, each a unique and very different style of comedic theater. The first, “Chamber Music,” is an absurdist one-act play by Arthur Kopit. The second, “Servant of Two Masters,” is in the style of commedia dell’arte.
One of the factors in choosing the play was the number of students who showed an interest in participating, Porter said.
“We had a great turnout with young women for the production, but not so many guys,” he said. “So instead of doing a show where we would dismiss half the young women that showed up, we decided (to) break them into two groups. … (We thought) if we can match six guys with six young women (for “Servant of Two Masters”) and have the other young women be in their own production (“Chamber Music”), then everyone gets stage time.”
Theater of the absurd
“Chamber Music” features 10 actors, all but two of them female. Absurdist plays apply to a broad comedic sense, where logic often gives way to irrational argument, Paré explained.
“Expect to see something nonlinear. Expect to see something nonsensical. Expect to see something that’s repetitious, that’s almost unmotivated, but is (also) comical,” he said.
Paré, who is the director of education at the Lake Dillon Theatre Company, said he has enjoyed tackling this unique and often difficult style of performance.
“Both shows are something completely new for the students, so it was really exciting to take it from that educational standpoint,” he said, “(We thought), let’s introduce them to a new style of theater, let’s also talk to them about some theatrical history, and they got a lot of that dramaturgical work, which was really exciting for them.”
Four of the actors also have roles in the second act, while the remaining students are relatively new to theater. Paré said he enjoyed giving them challenging material to work with.
“I liked the directors that would challenge me and put me in these positions that I was a little uncomfortable in, and so to do that with these kids is my way to give back to them.”
Senior Heather Gutekunst has performed in numerous plays since her first in middle school. She plays “Woman With Notebook,” who refers to herself as Gertrude Stein in “Chamber Music” and Brighella in “A Servant of Two Masters.”
“They’re so vastly different, (the audience) is definitely not going to get bored between the two,” she said.
She also enjoyed taking time to research her characters, particularly poet and playwright Stein.
“It was really awesome to get into her character.”
In contrast to the starkly abstract first act, “A Servant of Two Masters” delves into loud, physical humor, with the entire cast wearing brightly colored costumes.
“It’s a very specific, stylized and improvisational form of classic theater,” Blanchard, executive director of the Lake Dillon Theatre Company, said of the commedia dell’arte style. “It’s very fun, very physical, very bawdy, and working with the cast to get that style into their bones and into the physicality of the show was probably the main focus.”
The play centers on a series of mistaken identities, full of plot twists and crazily colorful characters blundering into one another.
“The physicality is probably my favorite part,” said senior Danny Daigle, who plays the titular servant Truffaldino. This becomes clear simply by watching him perform, flinging himself to the floor with emphasis and leaping about the stage.
Although rehearsals started at the beginning of October, the actors spent the first three weeks learning about the theatrical style, Blanchard said, watching videos and delving into character analyses.
“These are hard plays, even for adults. They’re complicated. They require smart actors, they require talented actors, and I think the cast is doing well,” he said. “The crew, also, has new things that they’re dealing with — new types of music, new types of sound, and I think it’s good for the school.”