Curtains open on the CFA Fringe Festival 2022 | UB today

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For the first time, the College of Fine Arts Fringe Festivalits annual celebration of opera and theatre, offers audiences a peek behind the curtain – a chance to experience the performance of a play that is still, by design, a work in progress.

In addition to the operas and plays the festival is known for, this year’s celebration of arts, music and theater will feature Next Stage workshops and plays: works by students who are still in development.

Performing them in front of a live audience gives student playwrights, directors and actors invaluable insight into what lands and, just as importantly, what might not.

“When you open up what you’ve done to an audience, you become very aware of your responsibility to be a rigorous artist with the work,” says Susan E.Mickey, director of the CFA theater school. “Listening to how the audience listens and what is received is a very important step for the authors and performers of these plays.”

Poster by Elliot Dupcak/SOT

So far, two of the three student works in the Next Stage series have been staged for the public, Salomeby Trevor Turnbow (Pardee’25, CFA’25), and Mother Can I? by Dylan Avillanoza (CFA’23). Festival-goers will be able to attend the final piece, against a village, by Elliot Dupcak (CFA’23), directed by Matthew Swain (CFA’23), on October 22 and 23.

BU’s Fringe Festival, a nod to Edinburgh’s famous alternative music and arts festival of the same name, features new or rarely performed opera and theater pieces. Thus, in addition to the Next Stage productions, this year’s program includes two operas, Rappaccini’s hija and Our cityand a play, Small boat or conjecture. Tickets for all three are free at the door for anyone with BU ID and $20 each for members of the general public.

Ted Doyle (CFA'24) stands in the middle of a crowd during a rehearsal for
Ted Doyle (CFA’24) (back, center) and the cast during a rehearsal for Against a village, by Elliot Dupcak (CFA’23) (not pictured). The piece is on the Fringe Festival’s Next Stage list of work in progress by current CFA students. Photo by Chris Daly (CFA’24)

The first is Rappaccini’s hijaan opera based on a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the 19th century writer of The scarlet letter celebrity. Created in 1991 at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, Rappaccini’s hija tells the fictional story of Giacomo Rappaccini, a medical researcher who cultivates a garden of poisonous plants. Rappaccini trains his daughter to tend the garden and she becomes immune to plants, but toxic to others.

Composed by Daniel Catan, Rappaccini’s hija from October 21 to 23 at Studio ONE of the CFA. Allison VothCFA associate professor of music and opera, is the musical director.

Our city, an opera based on Thornton Wilder’s 1938 Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name, is next in the repertoire. The play is about the daily lives of the citizens of the fictional small American town of Grover’s Corners, NH, between 1901 and 1913. Premiered in 2006, the opera is unique in that it contains almost no spoken dialogue, a bare scene and a minimum of accessories.

Composed by Ned Rorem, on a libretto by JD McClatchy, Our city will be presented on October 28 and 29 at the CFA Concert Hall. William Lumpkinassociate professor of music CFA and artistic director of the Institute of the Opera, is the musical director, and the director is Nathan Troupe (CFA’04), opera teacher at the CFA.

To finish, Small boat or conjecture is a piece that took years to prepare. Written by a nationally acclaimed playwright Kirsten Greenidgea CFA associate professor of playwriting and theatrical arts, the play, originally scheduled to be produced in 2020, examines the relationship between Sally Hemmings and her brother James Hemmings, while they were enslaved by Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States.

Casting and team rehearsal Our city, one of three full productions at this year’s festival. Student work in progress is also included this year, for the first time. Photo by Cydney Scott

The COVID-19 pandemic has prevented Small boat or conjecture to be fully produced (although a team of BU student actors and designers hosted an online reading of the play in April 2020 that informed some of its script revisions, Greenidge says). This year’s Fringe Festival is the first time the play will be “on its feet, with all the bells and whistles,” she says.

Drawing inspiration from American historian Annette Gordon-Reed’s account of the complex and real-life relationship between Sally Hemmings and Jefferson, the drama imagines and fleshes out the power dynamics that must have been at play while the couple lived in Paris, just before the French Revolution.

“I don’t know the tenor of their relationship, because I wasn’t there,” says Greenidge, “but the descendants of Sally Hemmings believe they had a form of relationship and an agreement that not only governed how they would relate to each other, others, but also the status of their future children as free people or slaves.

Greenidge was intrigued by this troubled (and obviously underdocumented) period, when Hemmings – who would have been a teenager by then and also a free person in France – and Jefferson – her slaveholder in the United States – began an intimate relationship that resulted in at least four children who lived to adulthood.

“I was very interested in Sally Hemmings as a youngster,” says Greenidge. “I think there’s this tendency to think of ourselves as separate or very different from people throughout history, but there are certain qualities that are consistent through time.”

From today’s perspective, it’s likely that Jefferson was engaging in grooming behavior, she says. “What would it have been like to be 14 or 16 and prepared to be able to do this deal?” She wonders.

Greenidge’s answer, in the form of Small boat or conjecturetakes place at Studio ONE from November 4-6.

Rappaccini’s hija runs Friday, October 21 through Sunday, October 23 at CFA Studio ONE, 855 Commonwealth Ave. Book tickets here.

The next step in the production of Against a villageon Saturday, October 22 and Sunday, October 23, is in room CFA 354, 855 Commonwealth Ave. Free entry.

Our city will take place on Friday, October 28 and Saturday, October 29 at the CFA Concert Hall, 855 Commonwealth Ave. Book tickets here.

Small boat or conjecture runs from Friday, November 4 through Sunday, November 6 at CFA’s Studio ONE, 855 Commonwealth Ave. Book tickets here.

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