PacRep’s performing arts school picks up where CET left off.
Thursday, January 6, 2011
Pacific Repertory Theatre’s School of Dramatic Arts (SoDA) is ready to debut a new program, Words on Stage: Voices from Great Literature, in the recently acquired Indoor Forest Theatre.
A year-long creation of SoDA instructor/actress Suzanne Sturn and Program Director Maryanne Rousseau, the literary reading series landed at the Indoor Forest Theatre through unexpected providence – Children’s Experimental Theatre’s recent dissolution and renovations slated for PacRep’s Circle Theatre and Golden Bough Theatre – though Sturn likes the dimensions of the place.
“It’s an intimate, matchbox space, a theatrical space,” she says. “No backdrop, no intermission. It’s the actor, the voice and the listener.”
With shows that revolve around youth-centric fare like All Shook Up, The Jungle Book and 101 Dalmations – not to mention the youthful guise of its name – many assume SoDA is a kids performing arts program. It’s not, says Sturn.
“Words on Stage is very much an adult program,” she says. “[A pair of] monthly stage readings of great works [of] poetry, stories and essays.”
In coming months the program will visit various writers, using different actors and directors.
“Febuary is called ‘Love, Love, Love,’ poetry and short stories from all over the world,” Sturn says. “Ninth century Chinese poet Tufu, Shakespeare, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Bly. In March, director/actor Dan Gotch is doing Irish poetry and music.”
The program’s debut, this Monday and Tuesday, revolves around Pulitzer – and American Book Award-winning poet Mary Oliver.
“She’s almost my favorite contemporary poet,” Sturn says. “Great American writer. Feminine voice, lyrical, and celebrates nature like Emerson, Dickinson and Thoreau.”
Sturn directs herself and three other readers in the program, a feat that she says demands a nuanced attention to the rhythm and story in Oliver’s poems as well as the actors’ emotional pitch.
“Jerry Falek has been a professional storyteller for many years,” she says. “He has a great voice and sense of lyric and myth. Donald Grube is a Santa Cruz actor and director. Alex Bristow is a young performer  and I’m an actor and director with a love for poetry.
“They’re performers whose voices I knew would lend beautifully to this work.”
And Oliver deserves the attention Sturn and company are paying her. The reclusive poet hones her acute senses on nature in a process that starts with long hikes but turns into a meditation or communion. She describes kneeling down in grass to feed a grasshopper sugar, a scene that invokes prayer.
She has an efficient and evocative way with language: “Glittering fire,” “white scarves of the clouds,” “clear pebbles of the rain,” a snake is “a long ladder of muscle.” She compares the solitude of sleeping under the “white fire” of the stars to a rock in a riverbed.
And she shares not just her observations, but her questions, as Sturn quotes from “The Summer Day”: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
The New York Times christened her the best-selling [living, at 75] American poet. Her poems have struck and reverberated in people like a tuning fork.
“[These are] works that aren’t plays,” Sturn says. “Literature offers so much else that’s rich in voices. Much of it is meant to be read out loud.”
WORDS ON STAGE: VOICES FROM GREAT LITERATURE is performed 7:30pm Monday and Tuesday, at Indoor Forest Theatre, Mountain View and Santa Rita, Carmel. Free; donations are appreciated. 622-0700, www.pacrep.org.