The Rise and Shine Of a Mainstage Play

Caffeine's the key, says Matthew S. Cibula '88, as the crew of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui hammered the finishing touches on the play's set of crates and wooden boxes. Lying on the floor in front of the Loeb's Mainstage, Cibula tried to explain how one can manage to coordinate a mainstage play.

But before Cibula could continue, his co-producer Marie Ellen Noonan '88 broke in that to produce a mainstage play you also need "the ability to leave all your work behind and go back to it when you're done."

Although the cast and crew of Ui had been working on the play since the beginning of the semester, they were still scrambling Wednesday to perfect all the details before opening night. The three in charge of the play--the two producers and Director Shawn E. Hainsworth '88--have worked on many house plays before, but never on a mainstage production.

The scale alone of a mainstage production can be dizzying. The American Repertory Theater (ART) mainstage theater can host an audience of as many as 600 and mainstage productions ususally carry a larger budget and cast than house plays. To top it off, the ART stages only four student plays a year, so student mainstage plays receive a lot of attention.

Written by modernist playwright Bertolt Brecht and an allegory for the rise of Nazism in Weimar Germany, this work marks not only the resistible rise of Arturo Ui but also the rise of a direction/production trio. The three have done several other productions together in the past, including last year's hit The 5th of July, are good friends and they even live in the same entry way of Leverett House. But all agree that the sheer logistics of a mainstage production require a different approach.


The three's odyssey to the mainstage began last spring when Hainsworth suggested to his friends that they produce the Brecht play, which he saw performed at Canada's Stratford Festival the previous year. Noonan and Cibula read the script and agreed. They ther submitted a proposal to the Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatics Club (HRDC).

HRDC accepted the proposal mostly because of Hainsworth's convincing presentation at an interview with the group's executive board and his extensive directing experience, said HRDC executive Erik J. Salovaara '88. "We all agreed it was a worthwhile production," he says.

The faculty committee in dramatic arts, which must approve the HRDC's choices for the mainstage, agreed. Says noted playwright and committee member Professor William Alfred, "They told me why they thought the play would be the most viable in terms of not only the quality of the director and script but also how it fit in with other things on the program."

Hainsworth says he chose the Brecht play because he thought its "theatricality" would fill the large visual space which the Loeb provides. Only the mainstage provides the large space and hightech equipment necessary to create a Brechtian atmosphere of gloom.

The ART allows mainstage producers to use its lighting facilities and its machine shop. Members of the ART staff helped the Ui group with accents, publicity and costuming. And to help pay for additional costs, the HRDC allots mainstage producers $1500, while budgets for house productions usually run around $500 or less. Not only that, "we are under no compunction to pay [the money] back," as there is with house productions, Noonan says. And Cibula added, "Most houses do not let us do big ornate productions which make no money."

But along with expanded possiblities, mainstage groups like the Ui gang inherit difficulties. The need to fill the theater's space, the difficulty of organizing so many instruments and people, and the fact that mainstage productions draw a different and much larger crowd can be inhibiting.

Yet Ui actors and staff say they have not experienced any such problems as organization has been incredibly efficient and that the 24-member cast has developed a marvellous rapport with one other and the production team, despite its large size.

"It's rare to find a large cast show that works," says Charles H. Raphael '88, who plays the title role in this show. Raphael, who was on the mainstage earlier this season in Lie of the Mind, said this production was one of the most fun he had ever worked on. And he credited this to Hainsworth and the producers "for setting a friendly yet serious tone for the show." Many other actors agree.

"This is the best produced show in my memory," says veteran mainstager Samuel P. Sifton '88. Calling it a "good time show," Sifton said the production took as much time as some of the ART shows in which he has performed. But, he said in some ways he preferrs doing undergraduate plays because of the "student flavor."

For most of those involved in Ui, a mainstage production combines the fun of student theater with the thrill of professional theater. It's a chance to see what "real" theater is all about, without pressure and competition. And while some students say a large audience may prove daunting, most felt it did not matter at all.

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