Francis Marion University students and Florence residents were taken back to the early 1900s during the production of the play “Our Town” in the Hyman Fine Arts Center Theatre from Thursday, Oct. 18 to Saturday, Oct.20.
Director Glen Gourley, director of university theatre and professor of theatre arts, said that he ended up selecting “Our Town” for the fall semester performance for several different reasons.
“It’s a classical and we haven’t done it in over 20 years,” said Gourley. “Plus it has a large cast and I knew it would have lots of literary appeal.”
Our Town was written by playwright Thorton Wilder in the 1930s and describes the lives of the residents in the small, fictional town of Grover’s Corners. Located in New Hampshire, the town seems to have the same general theme of most small towns of that period. Though the population of Grover’s Corners is said in the play to only be a little under 5000 people, the storyline focuses mainly on two families and a handful of other townspeople. The two families are the Gibbs and the Webbs. Frank Gibbs, played by Matthew Adkins, is the town doctor, and Charles Webb, played by Daniel Price, is the editor of the Grover’s Corners’ newspaper.
To follow the lives of the Grover’s Corner residents, the production was broken into three different acts with ten minute intermissions held between each act. The first act was called “Daily Life” and starts in the year 1901. This act sets up the town’s layout, introduces all the main characters and shows the start of the relationship between George Gibbs, played by Thomas Walker, and Emily Webb, played by Katelyn Lamb.
The second act, “Love and Marriage”, takes place three years later and continues to follow the blossoming relationship between George Gibbs and Emily Webb and how their families react to it.
“Death and Eternity” is the third and final act of the play and concludes in the year 1913. The majority of this act takes places in the Grover’s Corners’ graveyard.
Though the play had scenes that called for several different locations around the town of Grover’s Corners, the set design was kept very basic with several wooden chairs often being the extent of the setting on the stage. There were also very few props for the performers to work with, and during many of the scenes, they pretended to be using a prop instead of actually having one. The minimal design of the production and the lack of props was a choice made by Wilder when he wrote the play.
To help the performers with the lack of scenery and props, Gourley said that the performers watched three different DVDs of actors such as Paul Newman perform in “Our Town” and see how they would act out the different scenes. Gourley also said that he even bought actual green beans for the performers to practice breaking so they would know how to move their hands to correctly convey the action.
“It’s a challenge but once they got use to it and once they pictured what they were doing I think it got easier for them,” said Gourley.
To further make up for the lack of scenery, Wilder created the part of Stage manager to narrate all the acts and describe any scene or setting changes. Played by CJ Miller, the Stage Manager goes back and forth between being a narrator in the play and playing different small roles in the production such as a reverend or a shop owner. The Stage Manager was also written to be aware of the audience viewing the play as he often talks and asks questions to the audience directly.
The University Theatre Program’s next performance will be a series of one-act plays directed by FMU students from Wednesday, Nov. 28 to Thursday, Nov. 29.