Students prepare for UATD’s ‘Picnic’

Laura Testino

The reappearance of many themes in theatre suggest that while time and place may alter the clothing characters wear or the language they use, the characters still struggle with subjects universal to audiences.

This idea unfolds on the Marian Gallaway stage in the University of Alabama department of theatre and dance’s production of “Picnic,” a play written by William Inge in 1953.

Jeffrey Tangeman, assistant professor and head of the MFA directing program, said he has enjoyed exploring and presenting Inge’s script as the director of “Picnic.” Although he has experience as a director, this is his first time directing a show at the University.

“While the struggles are universal, how the characters deal with them are determined in large part by social norms,” Tangeman said. “And those were very different during the 1950s. So you start to see things that, in some ways to us today as a contemporary audience, they seem antiquated. They seem old–fashioned, like, ‘My grandmother would have said that.’ I think an audience has to accept these people as they were in the 1950s, and then suddenly the play cracks open. And it’s very moving, and it’s completely available to an audience.”

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Allison Hetzel, associate professor of acting and voice, appears as a faculty artist in the show. She plays the role of Flo Owens, the mother to two daughters. In developing her character, Hetzel to made comparisons to her own relatives.

“My parents grew up in the ‘50s, and then my other relatives – grandmothers, great aunts and such – I think of in this time. And I remember some funny things my grandmothers would say about some of the topics that come up in the play, and just have to reflect on it,” she said.

This glimpse into 1950s America examines the lives of several characters over a 24-hour window of time. During this short time several events occur, and dynamic relationships between the characters continue to develop.

“A whole bunch could change in a day. We’ve all had those periods in our life. And plays are not written about the days that nothing happened,” Hetzel said.

During the rehearsal process, Tangeman worked with cast members to understand their part in the character-driven show. Being able to work through the play with Hetzel as a faculty artist and fellow cast member was a refreshing experience for Taylor Schafer, a junior majoring in theatre who plays the role of Ms. Potts.

“It’s been really, really beneficial to me as an actor in training to see a show go from something that’s pleasant and simple to something so extravagant and complex in what I can offer an audience,” Schafer said.

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Schafer has been involved in theatre since age 12, but for other cast members, stage experience varies. The cast includes Hetzel, graduate students and undergraduate students of varying experiences, including James Morris, a senior majoring in chemical engineering. Morris plays Hal Carter in his first a lead role.

Morris said his interest in theatre blossomed after taking a Theatre 115 class last semester just to fill hours. Having the opportunity to end his year in this show is “the icing on the cake.”

“The whole point of the play is exploring the characters and exploring those relationships. It’s stories that are as old as time itself,” Morris said. “I think everyone will be able to find someone on stage that they can relate to, in either an action or a character or relationship. I think [‘Picnic’] is just as poignant now as it was 50 years ago.”

Morris said he appreciated Tangeman’s guidance that enabled him to portray the play’s universal themes through his character, Hal. Tangeman said he finds the definition of youth, among the ideas of real beauty, identity and self-awareness, to be one of the main concepts of Inge’s play.

“We tend to value youth a great deal, and what it means, and that excitement and that exhilaration that comes with being young. And what [Inge] does in the play is he contrasts that with people who are older, who don’t have that spark necessarily anymore, but they remember that spark from when they had it. And there’s something really beautifully reminiscent in that,” Tangeman said.

“Picnic” will be performed in the Gallaway Theatre from Feb. 24 to March 1 at 7:30p.m. and March 2 at 2 p.m. Tickets are available at the box office or online at ua.tix.com.

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