I had the absolute pleasure of seeing Elon University’s Performing Arts Department perform the utterly heart wrenching Getting Out. E-Net described the play by summarizing how the “characters Arlie and Arlene, two versions of the same individual” struggle to find common ground. “Arlie is a young and unrepentant criminal while Arlene is the more mature, rehabilitated woman who struggles to put her youth behind her. Throughout the story, both are confronted by the characters and experiences that accompany them to the present. The play, like life, offers no simple answers but compassionately conveys a heart-wrenching battle against incredible odds.”
Now, of course, I’m going to give you all a very fascinating examination of the technical production and design aspects of the show and describe how they influenced the show as a whole. Trust me. You’re going to want to read this.
First and foremost, I have to comment on the beautiful painted dresser that was used throughout the play. Mostly, the small dresser found itself below an actor’s coat or some other prop. In all honestly, the dresser did not have that much purpose at all. I just wanted to point out that I painted it.
On a serious note, the design of the show was fantastic. It took place in Elon’s Black Box Theater, which means the area itself was very intimate. This is definitely a space that must be analyzed in great detail if a department wants to put on a show that utilizes the space to its fullest extent. Wow, that was a lot of words. The fact that the audience was in a Black Box is possibly the first aspect of design that really pulls you into the show. The enclosed space makes the viewer feel much more immersed in the show. I remember feeling the wind as an actor walked by in several different scenes. It forced me to pay attention to even the smallest details of the actors. At many points during the show, I recall feeling as if I was truly there in that dusty old apartment with Arlene seeing everything that she saw.
Secondly, I enjoyed the use of the black traveller type curtains in the back of the theater. It masked everything that the audience did not need to see. Further, it made transitions for the actors quite easy. After an actor’s role had been exhausted, they merely walked behind the curtain. This may seem like a simple idea, but to me it was fascinating. After a while, I completely forgot the curtain was there. It seemed to melt into the rest of the Black Box. This illusion gave me the sense that the actors as well were simply fading into the background.
Another great aspect of the traveller curtains, was how well it worked at absorbing light. The play itself covers some dark subject matter, and this should be reflected in the design of the play. The large black curtains made it impossible for any light not completely planned out and designed by the production team to be shown. Everything concerning the lighting was very controlled in this sense. Furthermore, the sound effects were just as huge within the play. In the opening, when the audience is walking in and waiting for the show, jailhouse sounds could be heard. Arlie’s jail cell door was totally indicated by the sound of it opening and closing. Since Arlie’s jail cell is one of two major scenery pieces, I would say that this greatly emphasizes how very necessary the sound effects were to show.
Also, another notable fact is how the scenery was placed. The jail cell piece was located right above the door to Arlene’s apartment. I found this particularly significant because it showed the audience, or at least showed me, where the importance of the play was located. Almost all of the major action either comes through Alrene’s apartment door or through Arlie’s jail cell. It made it easier for me to connect the idea that both Arlene and Arlie were in fact the same person dealing with separate problems, but very much interconnected beings all the same. All that Arlie did influenced Alrene as the woman she is now. There truly was no escape from that. As much as Arlene wanted to “get out” of her past life, she needed to reconcile with it. This idea was totally reinforced by the placing of the scenery.
Next, I would like to observe and emphasize how much they did with so little. Once again, the Black Box theater is a small space. The Performing Arts Department did such an amazing job at utilizing this space in its entirety. There was room for everything and nothing. Every piece of scenery was properly placed so that it consumed the area it was in. You knew where each setting began and ended. You also knew that the fact that there was no excess space left was yet another technique employed to add to the presentation as a whole. Everything needed to be just as separated as it was interconnected, much like the personalities of Arlene and Arlie. There also needed to be a continuous tone of suspense and growing intensity that could only be implemented by the intimacy of the Black Box space.
In short, Getting Out was fantastic. I was very impressed not only by the actors, but the wonderful design and production team who knew exactly what they were doing. The location, scenic design, props, sounds, and lighting all immersed the viewer in a true visual spectacle. The technical design and production of the show influenced its overall intensity and effectiveness as a theatrical show. My friends and I all agreed that the play was a tremendous success as well all could not stop talking about it for hours. The great part was that most of the conversation would end up relating back to some aspect of the theater’s scenic design. It was evident that we were not the only ones deeply impressed. Other audience members could be heard announcing how moved they were not only by the department’s performance of the show, but the design of the show.
And that in itself tells you all you need to know.