North Park University Spring Theatre Production Set for Chicago Storefront Space

Spring Theatre Production
Mandy VanderMey and Jake Sanders portray the lead characters in the North Park University theatre production of To Damascus, to be staged at a Chicago storefront theatre.

Production is based on August Strindberg's To Damascus

CHICAGO (April 13, 2012) – North Park University theatre students will take their skills off campus in late April and early May to perform an original adaptation of Swedish playwright August Strindberg's To Damascus in a Chicago storefront space. It's the second time in two years that University theatre students have staged a production in the intimate setting provided by such a space, commonly used in Chicago theatre productions.

In addition, University theatre alumni working in the Chicago theatre circuit have been working with student designers the past few months, as the production takes shape, said Dr. Chad Eric Bergman, professor of communication arts, Theatre and Performance Studies. This year is also the 100th year of Strindberg's death. Strindberg was a significant and prolific writer who penned more than 60 plays, and is credited with writing more than 30 novels, autobiographies, poems, and other artistic works. Performances of Strindberg's works are being staged throughout the world this year.

Working in storefront settings is part of students' training in the University theatre program. In 2010, the North Park production of Legitimate Geniuses was staged at the Neo Futurarium, Chicago. "It was the most successful talking play, other than a musical, that we had done in a long time," Bergman said. "People wanted to go. It was 'an event' to be off campus." This year, the University spring theatre production is The Storefront Theatre Experience at Rivendell Theatre, Chicago.

Last fall, Bergman translated To Damascus from Swedish to English. Bergman, 13 theatre students, and several designers then rewrote the script into a 21st century story to which students can relate, keeping the main themes of Strindberg's original piece. To Damascus describes a spiritual pilgrimage in which the main character, The Stranger, experiences Christ, similar to Paul's conversion to Christ described in the Acts of the Apostles in New Testament.

"The source material these students came up was profound and topical, and really struck a chord.  It's student-driven, and we're really excited about that," Bergman said.

Jake Sanders, a creative writing and theatre major from Worcester, Mass., plays the role of The Stranger. Many people had a role in reworking Strindberg's original story, he said. "It's been such a collaborative effort between not just Chad and the production team, but also the actors have had a hand in creating the world we want everyone to experience," he said in an interview.

Sanders, a junior, was in Legitimate Geniuses two years ago, and experienced first-hand the excitement of performing in a storefront setting just as Chicago professionals do. "We're actually getting off campus and doing something that's a little more radical than we normally do," he said.  "It definitely jumps the energy level for everyone."

Particularly significant for Sanders and other students has been the opportunity to work on this production with alumni professionals who work in Chicago theatre. One of them is Sarah Nelson, actor, designer, and company manager for Akvavit Theatre Company, Chicago. She graduated from North Park University in 2011, where she was a student with a double major in communication arts theatre, and business and economics.

Nelson, along with other alumni and designers, has been working with the North Park students since February, helping them as they adapted Strindberg's original script, and to build sets and work on sound design. "Everyone is working as an ensemble to put this together. In Chicago you can find this sort of thing happening in many spaces," Nelson said. "I think this is a really fun, relatable piece because it's written by students and adapted from Strindberg's play."

Nelson recalled her own experiences when she was a North Park student, and how that has translated into her professional theatre career. "What I remember most is working as true collaborators," she said. "I don't think as far as I can tell from other friends at other universities that they had opportunities to work with professional directors and designers. That was a huge aid after college. I have a lot more outside connections."

Performances of the students' adaptation of To Damascus are April 27, 28 and 29, plus May 3, 4 and 5 at The Storefront Theatre Experience at Rivendell Theatre, Chicago. All performances are at 7:30 p.m., except April 29, which is at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are available by email at tickets@NPUtheatre.org or at the door. General admission is $10, students, $5 with a University identification card. Seating is limited, with about 50 seats available for each performance.

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