University Theatre Spring Season Preview

University Theatre’s spring schedule features Chantal Bilodeau’s Sila and William Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors.

By UO Student Lili Wagner

Coming to the University Theatre stage this spring are polar bears, the Aurora Borealis, beatings, and accusations of demonic possession.

Or, put another way, Chantal Bilodeau’s Arctic Circle ecodrama Sila and William Shakespeare’s Elizabethan slapstick tale of mistaken identity Comedy of Errors.

Theresa May, an expert in ecodrama and
theatre for social change brings environmental
issues alive on stage in the production of
Sila.

University Theatre’s production of Sila is an interdisciplinary project. The cast includes four actors who grew up on the Arctic, three who speak French, two who are linguistics graduate students with an emphasis in indigenous languages, a music major, and a graduate student in the Native Law Program at the University of Oregon School of Law. It will run from April 16-26, and is directed by Theresa May, who specializes in ecodrama, native and indigenous drama, community based performance, and theatre for social change.

Comedy of Errors, which opens May 22 and runs through May 31, will be the last that 2011 Kennedy Center Gold Medallion recipient Joseph Gilg, MS ’75, MFA ’87 directs at the UO before his retirement this July.

Sila explores contemporary issues of environmentalism, focusing on the conflicting interests that shape policy and practice in the Arctic Circle. It is the first in Bilodeau’s ambitious eight-play series The Arctic Cycle, which explores the crossroads of the cultural and environmental in the eight countries of the Arctic. The cycle itself is part of a larger effort Bilodeau calls Artists and Climate Change, an attempt to inventory and celebrate artistic works exploring environmental themes.

May first learned of Sila in 2012, when the play won first prize in the Earth Matters on Stage Ecodrama Festival that she had co-founded in 2009. May saw the play’s premiere in Boston, and afterwards gave presentations on how the production undertakes the challenge of staging climate change, before proposing the script to University Theatre for the 2014-2015 season.

“I think Sila gives a sense, an awareness, of climate change as a human justice issue,” May said. “The poorest in the world will be hit the hardest by the effects of climate change.  It isn’t just about ice and polar bears but about people too. A lot of times this interconnection is overlooked. Sila, which means ‘breath’ in Inuktitut, is about that interconnection.

“Bilodeau has created a play in which three worlds collide—that of the bears, the Inuit community and the climate scientists. Our task on stage is to show through the magic of theatre those intersecting, inter-permeable, and sometimes conflicting worlds.”

Sila features three languages—English, French, and Inuktitut—and includes a variety of special effects and theatrical elements, all of which contribute to the play’s intricate, authentic portrayal of life in the Arctic Circle.

May commented, “Special effects include not only the imaginative portrayal of the bear characters through physical movement, but also the Arctic environment, the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis), a unique soundscape, and spoken-word (slam) poetry.”

The play opens Thursday, April 16 in its West Coast premiere. Despite the polar bears, Sila is not recommended for children. After each Friday and Saturday performance, the cast and production team will host a post-production discussion, giving the audience an opportunity to explore the issues the play raises.

Going out with a bang, Joseph Gilg MS ’75,
MFA ’87 will direct a raucous adaptation of
Comedy of Errors this spring before retiring in
July.

A dramatic change in pace and tone from Sila, Shakespeare’s raucous Comedy of Errors tells the story of two estranged twin brothers and their twin servants who, in a mess of mistaken identity, wreak hilarious havoc throughout the city of Ephesus.

Gilg commented, “I’d been thinking about Comedy of Errors because there were some students in my acting class that I thought could play twins very easily, and it would be fun to watch them because they have a strange kind of manic energy.”

Gilg celebrates theatrical productions as creative processes of collaboration. The production team, which he nicknames “The Brain Trust,” consists entirely of University of Oregon educators and students, and everything from dramaturgy to lighting design is done in-house.

“I resist the question that frequently arises: what is your concept?” said Gilg. “I prefer to develop a concept with my team. We explore what the play’s about. Two heads are better than one.”

The Brain Trust has imagined a spontaneous, fast-paced, colorful production, applying the spirited energy of a circus or street performance to amplify the play’s wide range of humor.

“The physical comedy translates well,” Gilg said. “The topical humor is a little more difficult. Of course, with Shakespeare there are going to be challenges with the language. It’s just different enough that it’s sometimes difficult but there are natural rhythms that people pick up on and understand.”

In addition to Sila and Comedy of Errors, the 2014-2015 season featured Jon Jory’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, Caryl Churchill’s love and information, and the Faculty Dance Concert.

On May 30, the Department of Theatre Arts will host an all class alumni reunion, which will include a meet and greet in the morning, lunch, tours of the new theatre, costume displays, a tribute to late former professor Jack Watson, and a celebration of the careers of Gilg and his wife, Sandy Bonds, as they enter retirement. Attendees are invited to attend Comedy of Errors that evening.

For Sila and Comedy of Errors ticketing information, click here.