September 22, 2010

Leaving Iowa Offers Touching Journey

Theatre students star in Leaving Iowa
L - R: Back: Sharon Biermann, Tabitha Ray,
Front: Zachary Bortot, Sean Cowan
by Judy Baker

For many, the phrase "family vacation" conjures up images of sweltering heat, hours in a car, and an abundance of educational tourist sites. The Regent University Theatre Department captures the nostalgic memories of these annual summer journeys in Leaving Iowa.
In this sentimental comedy penned by stand-up comedians Tim Clue and Spike Manton, journalist Don Browning returns home to Winterset, Iowa, to find a suitable place to scatter his father's ashes. As he journeys across the Midwest, he relives the summer vacations he spent as a boy idly perched with his sister in the backseat of his family's station wagon.

The heartwarming production is set in a cornfield and is told through flashbacks intermingled with the present. "I've joked with the cast that Leaving Iowa is a colorful collision of Hee-Haw and The Glass Menagerie," said director Eric Harrell, chair of Regent's theatre department.

Although it's a comedy, the play poignantly portrays Browning's quest to make peace with his deceased father. "This delightful new play strikes the perfect balance of tender humor as father and son reconnect for one last, grand adventure," Harrell explained. "In many ways, it's a nostalgic ode to days gone by."

The production's message that the journey is often as important as the destination is sure to resonate with people of all ages. "I suspect there won't be a single person in the audience that can't relate to the experiences of the Browning family as they live out their annual summer vacation," Harrell said. "Leaving Iowa will keep our audiences laughing and remembering all of the childhood vacations they've tried so hard to forget.

Leaving Iowa was nominated Best New Play by the American Theatre Critics Association. In Regent University's production, third-year MFA Acting student Sean Cowan performs his thesis role.

Performances continue Sept. 23-26.

Purchase tickets online.

September 14, 2010

Leaving Iowa Opens This Weekend!

Take a road trip with the Browning family in the new comedy hailed by the Chicago Sun-Times as "simultaneously hilarious and touching." This nostalgic look at family vacations will remind you of a time when we all asked that plaguing question . . . "Are we there yet."

Here are some thoughts from Director, Eric Harrell:

Surely there is a therapist out there who specializes in PTVD: post-traumatic vacation disorder. It’s the ailment that leaves families everywhere emotionally scarred and physically debilitated following the annual summer vacation.

For the most part, my family was spared PTVD. Every July my father navigated the family station wagon to sites my brother and I typically found interesting. There was the trip to the Grand Canyon, the Key West excursion and even Disneyland in fourth grade. But then came 1986: the sesquicentennial of Texas.

To help wish our home state a happy 150th birthday, my dad decided we would vacation stateside that year. The plan? Follow the historical markers and let history be our guide! I discovered rather quickly that water parks and video arcades do not have historical markers. Places like Washington-on-the-Brazos are rife with them.

In our quest to honor the history of our great state, we left no historical marker unvisited. There was Raven Hill (the plantation home of General Sam Houston), the Davis Mill (the first stone mill in Bell County with a carding machine) and the Lampasas River Bridge (a rare surviving example of a Whipple Truss!). It was the longest three weeks of my life. I can still feel my thighs sticking to the vinyl seats of our wood-paneled station wagon. I can still see the coarse stitching running through the middle of the back seat that served as the Great Wall of China between my feuding brother and me. And yes, I can still see (and smell) the many public bathrooms at all those remote gas stations in the middle of nowhere. Were it not for the motel swimming pools, picnics at state parks and the magnetized checker board we played in the car, I think the Texas sesquicentennial would likely have been my undoing.

But I did survive. And the next year my dad flew us all to Cancun.

I guess you made it through your family vacations as well or you wouldn’t be here tonight. And I suspect as you relive those memories alongside the Browning family in Leaving Iowa you may find they’re less bitter in hindsight. In fact, you may remember them as fondly as I’ve come to remember the Texas sesquicentennial. Though if anyone knows a good therapist specializing in PTVD, my kids may be interested. We vacationed in Texas this year. There was a rare example of a surviving Whipple Truss I just had to show them.

Enjoy the show!
 - Eric Harrell

Performances of Leaving Iowa are in the Studio Theater:

September 17th & 18th and 23rd-25th at 8:00 p.m.

September 18th & 19th and 25th & 26th at 3:00 p.m.

To purchase tickets, call 352.4245 or visit the Box Office during office hours, Monday-Friday from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. For further information or to purchase tickets online, visit us at

September 8, 2010

Regent Featured in Southern Theatre Magazine!

Regent University’s Theatre program was recently featured on the cover of Southern Theatre magazine! 2010 MFA graduate Rob Arbaugh is pictured in his role as "Orlando" from last fall’s production of As You Like It, directed by Scott Hayes. The article by Deanna Thompson, editor of Southern Theatre, is called “Social Media Onstage: Romeo and Juliet Are on Facebook, Orlando Sends Tweets”.

Rob Arbaugh as "Orlando"
Highlighting the current trend of incorporating social media onstage, the article explores the relationship between play production and marketing. Quoting Scott Hayes, it explains how after hearing about a church which sent text messages of Bible verses during a sermon, he “immediately thought of the potential for theatre – using Twitter, ‘footnotes’ could be sent directly to the viewer in real time.” He adds, “We didn’t change Shakespeare’s verse, language or structure, but in addition to Twitter, we incorporated contemporary music, live video, Guitar Hero and other 21st century communication tools.” To read the whole article, click on the link to Southern Theatre magazine, below.

Summer C.A.M.P.'s The Wiz
Regent’s Summer C.A.M.P. production of The Wiz, directed by 2010 MFA graduate Ryan Clemens, continued the trend of incorporating social media and contemporary technological elements in production. In this high-tech production, Dorothy used a GPS to navigate through Oz, her Facebook page was displayed on a projection screen and the “iPoz” dancers welcomed her into the Emerald City. Quoting from Ryan’s director’s notes, “In our modern world – our multicultural, mixed-media, global community – teens find refuge in technology. Really, Dorothy wouldn’t require a cyclone to whisk her away. She could simply open her laptop, switch on her cell phone, or plug into her iPod to escape. With this ‘modern’ reality in mind, I looked for fun ways to update The Wiz for a contemporary Dorothy, keeping the show’s funky, soulful flavor while easing Oz into our digital age.”

Regent Theatre continues to rise to the challenge of presenting relevant material to both traditional and more contemporary audiences. Returning to Scott Hayes’ concept of As You Like It, he explains, "The play is about transformation. Characters are forced to change their environments, put on false identities, and their ideas are transformed into noble actions. I hope our 'transforming' of the play into a contemporary setting makes clear the timeless nature of our message."

September 3, 2010

Regent Students Active in Summer Theater

Many of our current students and recent graduates were very busy this summer working in theaters around the country. Here’s a sampling of what some of them were up to!

Hannah Hughes, (3rd year MFA), spent this past summer in the Apprentice Program at the acclaimed Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge, MA. To read more about her experiences, check out her blog!
Hannah's Journey Through the Berkshires

Rob Arbaugh and Ryan Clemens, MFA ‘10, appeared at the well-known Virginia Shakespeare Festival in Williamsburg. Ryan played Duke Frederick in As You Like It, and Rob reprised his role of Orlando in As You Like It, and also appeared as Roper in Man for All Seasons.

Andrew (AJ) Lease (1st Year MFA) spent the summer interning on Broadway with The Nederlander Producing Company of America. AJ created a small archive for the company and worked in the office. At night, AJ worked in 9 lobbies on Broadway signing people up for a free rewards program. He also worked at the National High School Musical Theater Awards and The National Boy Scout Jamboree in Times Square. AJ met some amazing people including: Kathleen Raitt (Producer of THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL and THE CIVIL WAR), Tommy Tune, Paul Gordon (The Composer of JANE EYRE: THE MUSICAL), Frank Wildhorn (Composer of THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL), Levi Kreis (2010 Tony Award Winner for Best Featured Actor in a Musical), Thelma Pollard (The Phantom's personal make-up designer and longest running make-up artist on Broadway), and James Moye (Currently in MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET.)

Jeff Fazakerley (2nd year MFA) performed The Wreck of the Dictator, a half hour long, one-man show at the beach front all summer. You can read more about his experience by clicking the following link.
The Incomplete Works of Jeff Fazakerley

Diana Coates (2nd year MFA) worked with the African Continuum Theatre Company of Washington D.C. and award winning author Pearl Cleage to bring some of Mrs. Cleage's most famous plays back to the stage including Blues For An Alabama Sky, Bourbon at the Border, and Flyin West. Teaming up with the DC Theatre Festival, she also performed in the original work, Harlem 9/11, a play that highlighted one family's struggles during the aftermath of September 11th. Diana finished her summer writing and directing a show for her church's youth conference where nine young people trusted the Lord as their Savior.

Early in the summer, Brandon Langeland’s (M.A.) original adaptation of The Scarlet Letter was performed on Regent’s campus. The show was directed by Chad Gilliland (3rd year MFA) and the cast included Whitney Rappana (2nd year MFA), Chris Bookless (1st year MFA) and Margaret Beasley (B.A.)

Andy Geffken, Tabitha Ray, (3rd year MFAs) Amy Dunlap, Britain Willcock (2nd year MFAs) and Chris Bookless, (1st year MFA) together with ’10 MFA graduate Kaja Dunn put together a six-person adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The show was directed by our own Shakespeare professor, Scott Hayes. The cast referred the project as the “Blair Witch” Macbeth, as the production made innovative use of the limitations of the library auditorium and very low technical elements to encourage the audience’s imagination.

Regent’s 2010 Summer Theatre C.A.M.P.s provided valuable directing and teaching experiences for many of our students and alumni. Ryan Clemens (MFA ‘10) directed The Wiz. Mike Salsbury (2nd year MFA) directed Mulan, Jr. and music directed The Wiz, joined by Nathan Schmidt (3rd year MFA) on piano. Amy Dunlap (2nd year MFA) choreographed and taught dance classes for both productions. Whitney Rappana acted as music director for Mulan Jr., and played Evilene as the mentor actor in The Wiz. Anna Koehler (MFA ‘10) taught improvisation, Andy Geffken (3rd year MFA) and Jeff Fazakerley (2nd year MFA) taught acting, Chad Rasor (MFA ’10) taught stage combat and headed up set construction. Tabitha Ray (3rd year MFA) assistant directed The Wiz and helped with stage combat, Britain Willcock (2nd year MFA) worked on set construction, and Beka James (B.A.) was choreography intern for The Wiz. Brad Archer (MFA ‘10) and Jared O’Dell (B.A.) stage-managed, and Tianna Yentzer (B.A.) assistant stage managed.

The following link is to a Virginia Pilot article about the process of producing The Wiz.
Yellow Brick Road Comes Our Way

Gene Gray (3rd year MFA) apprenticed at The Shakespeare Company of New Jersey.

Gene describes his apprenticeship as a “life changing experience.” Continue reading for Gene’s personal reflections!

“I was a part of the 2010 Summer Professional Training Program which also involved interns, the next stage ensemble, the junior/senior corps, and Shakespeare Live! For 11 weeks, I was surrounded by 25 other apprentices from all over the country and ranging from ages 19 to 32. Our classes consisted of acting Shakespeare, Catherine Fitzmaurice voice training, Viewpoints contemporary movement training, Laban movement training, unarmed and single sword rapier combat, Shakespeare’s play reading, textual analysis, Sunday seminars, and Master Classes. My favorite classes were Fitzmaurice and Viewpoints. I plan to use both of these techniques as warm-ups and part of my thesis research for my role of “Toby Felker” in The Runner Stumbles this coming January.
We had many projects that we rehearsed and performed in front of the company, family, and friends. In 11 weeks, the entire SPTP and Equity Main Stage produced four main stage productions and 14 SPTP projects. I don’t know of any program that pumps out that many non-equity projects during the summer. Many of the projects include: Shakespeare Scenes, Classical Scenes, adaptations of four Shakespeare plays, three adaptations of classical plays, a late-night cabaret, and the SPTP final project- Coriolanus.
My favorite part of the entire experience was meeting all the equity and non-equity actors and taking some of them home by driving the actor’s van to NYC. I drove the van from Madison, NJ to 42nd street in the “Big Apple” a few nights a week. I was able to introduce myself to many actors by asking them about their beginnings in the theatre, how they got started, and any suggestions for up-and-coming non-equity actors. I never saw myself living in NYC, but now I see it as a possibility.
I would recommend any B.A., M.A., or MFA to partake in Shakespeare Theatre of NJ’s SPTP program. It is very long, very daunting, very busy, but it will be worth it in the long run. You’ll make lots of friends and have the possibility to make a strong connection to a major professional theatre company. I know I did, and I hope to return there and work as a non-equity actor.”

- Gene Gray (3rd year MFA Acting student)