Onward to Africa

The cast members of “Things Fall Apart,” the spring Theater 520 presentation, will travel to South Africa this summer to perform in the Grahamstown Theater Festival. The show will also be performed this weekend at Phillips Academy (see times below). “I knew I was taking the show on tour,” said Instructor in Theater Mark Efinger, who is directing the play. “I think in Africa, people are tired of hearing Americans tout America. I wanted a story that focused on a culture which would be [different] than ours. This story, which is Nigerian, is still the quintessential modern African novel, therefore both familiar to South Africans while equally foreign.” “Things Fall Apart” focuses on the clash that occurs when Western civilization intrudes into the traditional Africa of the Nigerian Igbo tribe. Biyi Bandele, a Nigerian living in London, adapted the play from a novel by Chinua Achebe. Mr. Efinger increased the size of some of the female roles, added some scenes from the novel and deleted some from the script. Mr. Efinger described the Theater department’s group effort to piece together the show. “[Instructor in Theater] Billy Murray has been working with two classes of Theatre 380 [Costume Design] to create ten African masks and head-to-toe costumes for an ancestral spirit masquerade. While Caroline Pires ’06 did specific research on African masks in order to create authentic specimens, Melanie Kress ’05 headed up the costume project. They have also woven three African screens that provide environments further invented by the cast.” He continued, “Anand Swaminathan [’05] is creating a myriad of sound cues on African instruments and [School Organist] Patrick Kabanda has written original music for Anand’s cues. Steve Farquhar [’07] is taking Billy’s lighting design and adapting it for the tour. [Stage managers] Meg Evans [’06] and Kassie Archambault [’06] have organized over sixty props including a mini-arsenal of machetes and rifles built by [Instructor in Theater] Bruce Bacon.” He spoke of his cast, “Twenty-two actors have a collective story to tell. This includes African dancing, wrestling, and drumming, so I recruited Luke Cahill [’06], who is quite proficient at two of those three!” he chuckled. “Temi Devers [’05] covers the other! But Kassie had to teach him to wrestle!” He continued, “Half of SLAM augments our dance corps with impressive choreography by [Instructor in Dance] Anne Zuerner. And finally, we’re bringing in Wole Alade and his African drumming class for the last dress rehearsal!” In past years, the Theater Department has taken shows to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. When asked bout the change of direction, Efinger smiled and responded, “I have been to Edinburgh ten times; five times with students. At Edinburgh there are 22,000 performances and at least 4,000 of them are excellent. One must develop a strategy to avoid 18,000 shows! In Grahamstown, everything I saw was top notch. The shows tend to be minimalist in design, inventive in style, and physical actor-centered theatre.”