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A Little Bit of Something for Everyone — Choosing the USU Theater Season

Thursday, Sep. 26, 2013

the 2013-14 USU Theatre Arts Department season poster

The theater season at Utah State University looks at "legacies and lovers" with the theme “To create something new, you must first love what is old.”

Utah State University’s Caine College of the Arts produces numerous shows throughout the year, ranging from musicals to classical plays. But how to choose what shows to produce out of thousands of years of material? This is something the Department of Theatre Arts and Ken Risch, department head, must do every year.

“This season, we hope that every show is relatable to the community,” said Risch. “Each production reflects on choices and experiences of individuals and families as they face different challenges throughout life.”

Each year the theater department gathers to consider space availability, demands of an academic year and the abilities of the students to choose the six shows that the department will produce for USU and Cache Valley.

“Many considerations go into the planning of an academic theater season,” said Risch. “This year is carefully designed to strike a delicate balance between education and entertainment, while adhering to our responsibility to train theater students and provide a well-rounded liberal arts experience for the university as a whole and the community.”

Theater faculty members each submit three titles to the committee, composed of students and faculty representatives, who then examine each production. They specifically look at how large each show is, the style, author and/or composer and time period.

“We have a lot of material to cover, from Greek prose to shows fresh off of Broadway,” said Risch. “With more than 30 shows submitted to the committee each year, we try to hit all of the key time periods in our students’ four-year time frame and training. This way, university students are provided opportunities for a versatile education and the community has a chance to enjoy different show genres.”

Another factor the committee must keep in mind when choosing shows is faculty members in the department. New this year to the theater department is Richie Call and Jason Spelbring.

Call is a third-generation theater teacher and has worked with several local theater groups, including Unicorn Theater, Old Lyric Repertory Company and Salt Lake Acting Company. His grandfather, W. Vosco Call, founded the Old Lyric Repertory Company, his grandmother Ruth Call founded the Unicorn Children’s Theatre and his father, Richard Call senior, also worked in theater as a teacher, actor and director.

“Aside from excellent teaching skills, Richie brings to the department a knowledge of the area and a sensitivity to the Cache Valley culture,” said Risch.

Spelbring comes from California, where he was the artistic director of the Ojai Valley Shakespeare Festival. With a background in acting, movement and musical theater, he has worked with the Utah Shakespeare Festival, Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, Bath Shakespeare Festival in Maine and Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts Theaterfest in California.

“With his high levels of energy and new perspective, Jason will help us look at things with fresh eyes and invigorate the department,” said Risch.

This year, the Department of Theatre Arts is producing six shows. Opening with The Learned Ladies (now playing at the Lyric Theatre through Sept. 28), the season also features A Catered Affair, Still Life with Iris, Candida, Tarzan and Talking Pictures.

“While we cannot guarantee that you will want to attend every production we offer, we can guarantee a wide variety of theater experiences that will not only entertain and challenge you, but will broaden your understanding of the human condition,” said Risch.

The season’s first show, The Learned Ladies, opened Sept.  24. The play is the story of Henriette and Clitandre, a young couple wanting to get married. There’s only one thing standing in their way — Henriette’s family. Her mother, aunt and older sister are obsessed with becoming cultured ladies and are set on her marrying their paragon, a “scholar” and mediocre poet. Two lovers navigate the dangerous waters of culture and family relations in this show of rhyming couplets.

October features A Catered Affair, which tells the story of a Bronx mother’s efforts to give her only daughter the elaborate wedding she, the mother, never had — and the bride never asked for. In this funny, poignant and oh, so human show of love and disaffection, Harvey Fierstein’s book and John Bucchino’s score explore both the human need for love and the true meaning of family.

“This is a beautifully subtle piece with striking moments of silence,” said Risch. “It is a musical of self-reflection for the mother.”

This year’s show particularly chosen for young audiences is Still Life with Iris. Set in Nocturno, this adventure fantasy follows Iris, a young girl on a quest to regain her memory and her home. Her memories are kept in a coat and when that is taken away, leaving her with nothing but a button, she starts out on a journey to find the place she was taken from. Meeting incredible people along the way, Iris discovers the most important thing of all — herself.

February brings the story of Candida, a woman of many talents who is married to the successful Reverend Morell. However, their conventional existence is shaken when a young poet comes into their lives and professes his love for Candida. Re-examining their relationship, Morell discovers a side to his wife he never knew existed when she must choose between him and the poet.

Each year the department produces a big Broadway musical, and this year’s production is Tarzan, based on the Disney film by the same name. Orphaned on the shores of Africa and raised by a band of gorillas, Tarzan has always struggled for acceptance by his ape father. When a human expedition enters their territory, Tarzan’s whole world is turned upside down as he learns about being a man.

“We chose this show in part because of the interesting educational opportunity it presents for the students,” said Risch. “With the physical demands, difficult vocal parts and the aerobatics of the show, this is quite the challenge. However, this year we saw the potential of the students and faculty to make this show a reality.”

The final show of the academic year is Talking Pictures in April. In the plot, Myra supports herself and her teenage son by playing the music for silent movies and teaching piano lessons to a few girls. As the talkies are about to put an end to her livelihood, Myra searches for a means to support her family in a world on the brink of the Great Depression.

Risch said the six productions are connected by the theme of legacies and lovers. The season’s theme is “to create something new, you must first love what is old.”

Reflective of the idea that while we enter the world in complete innocence, we are ultimately propelled forward or held back by choices and events not necessarily of our making, Risch said.

“We invite our community to come and see a show this season,” said Risch. “From the life lessons taught in these productions, to the beautiful moments that will touch you, each show celebrates the human spirit and gives us hope.”

For more information on the theater season at Utah State University or the Caine College of the Arts and the Theatre Arts Department, contact the college’s box office in room 139-B of the Chase Fine Arts Center on USU’s Logan campus, call 435-797-8022 or see the college’s Production Services website.

Related links:
USU Theatre Arts Department

USU Caine College of the Arts

Writer: Kara Rindlisbacher, 435-797-9203,

Contact: Denise Albiston, 435-797-1500,

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