The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Studio 115 goes Avent Garde

4 min read


Studio 115, part of the theatre and dance department, is presenting one of the most experimental, challenging, and absurdly artistic works this campus has seen in a long time.

“bobrauschenbergamerica” by Charles Mee is being performed this weekend, February 5, 6, and 7 at 7:30 p.m. in Studio 115 (basement of Dupont).

“We have to risk everything to see how far we can jump,” says student director senior Anastasia Sullivan, “Sully” to those who know her best. This show began as a simple prerequisite for her senior project in theatre but has evolved into a breathtaking example of smart and edgy theatre. A play like “bobrauschenbergamerica,” lovingly called “BRA” by cast and crew, demonstrates that life, like a collage, is made up of moments strung together, overlapping and messy at times but always moving forward.

Not that BRA even resembles a typical linear play, as Sullivan said, “it dances around in a very different way than a conventional story or text, if Bob Rauschenberg wrote a play, this is what it would be, not a formula, a painting and that is how we’ve looked at it.”

The playwright Charles Mee, known for his provocative and avant garde work, said “it is a wild road trip through our American landscape-in a play made as one of America’s greatest artists, Robert Rauschenberg, might have conceived it if he had been a playwright instead of a painter: a collage of people and places…of love stories and picnics…shootings and chicken jokes…and of the sheer exhilaration of living in a country where people make up their lives as they go.”

Sullivan was inspired to do a Charles Mee piece after seeing his play, “Paradise Park” at the Signature Theatre in New York last spring. “I walked away different,” she said when describing her experience last year. BRA has been living with Sully since last May and as it is fully realized she says, “…I was familiar with the text but seeing it on its feet changed everything.”

To put together such a challenging piece of theatre, she started the rehearsal process with three ground rules. 1. “I don’t do anything that’s not fun, I always have fun. The number one thing in the process is to have fun.” 2. “Never stop thinking, never stop questioning.” 3.

“Always ask for more, from me, other actors, and yourself.” This play is conceptually challenging, probably more so than anything most students normally get exposed to. Thinking about the importance of this work Sullivan said, “The text, the process, it’s all a healthy challenge, to push the audience, to step outside conventions and find something different.”

This relatively short play, running at around an hour, is an example of great theatre and has the potential as Sullivan said, “to transform how we think, feel and care.” After being asked why students should see this production she said, “Everything tells a story but there’s no guarantee that it will be interesting, entertaining, or life changing. If I had to say why come see it, it’s that we all have something valid to take away, it speaks to the messiness of life; we’re all trying to find our way…everyone can relate.”

For Sully, one of the best parts of the show is “getting to work with bright, thinking people every day and every day that we play I’ve laughed to the point of tears.”

Her cast would agree. Ashley James, a sophomore who plays the role of “Phil’s Girl” said, “All I can say is it’s been a lot of fun!” Mackenzie Girard, “Susan” in the show agrees, “The whole thing’s just been awesome, amazing!” However, along with the fun of daily dance parties and smashing props, serious work happens as well.

“Being a director is like having a blank play book. No rules. That’s really hard.” Sullivan laughed and said, “I normally don’t take myself seriously but I’m learning as a director how to make the “play” work, how to shift gears and get serious.” Dana Maas, a junior playing “Carl” said, “‘BRA’ is not a normal show, its something special in that there is a lot put into each word. Most of my lines are ‘oh’ but there is a lot in those ‘oh’s.’”

Part of producing theatre is reading between the lines and delving into the sub-text of what is being said. Work in Studio 115 allows for this level of work to be done. Junior Shayla Roland, stage manager of BRA, said “This show embodies what Studio 115 is, it’s experimental, and the Studio allows you to do that.”

“bobrauschenbergamerica” will not only be an incredible performance but it has brought together a talented cast. Bethany Farrell who plays “Allen” said “it’s been a really short process but we’ve come together as a team. We call ourselves ‘team BRA’.” When freshman Channing Smith, “Wilson” in the show, was asked about the play, he said “At first I talked a lot about the show, but the show is a whirlwind, trying to talk about it…just come see it!”

This crazy cast of students, putting together an intense, myriad of pieces to create one remarkable story shouldn’t be missed. “I dig it!” said Sullivan and as Bob Rauschenberg might say, “I like these colors…Okay!  That feels good to me.”