Big-budget summer blockbusters and increasingly lifelike graphics of gaming consoles do a lot of imagining for us. Nothing inherently wrong with this; as long as there are other means to challenge your imagination. Without that, the ability atrophies like any other neglected muscle group. Thankfully, theatres around Jacksonville offer opportunities to bring awe and wonder back to life. For example the stage play On The Verge, or The Geography of Yearning, opening at the Atlantic Beach Experimental Theatre. Scroll past the jump for a sneak preview!
In the age of toddlers being able to swipe open iPads, teens indulging in obsessive app use, and adults seeing the world through Instagram filters, two things drift towards a place of obscurity: imagination and interaction with live entertainment. With the ability to watch movies in our laps at the dinner table or record entire concerts through the camera screen of our smartphones, there is an immediate separation of what is happening and what we are experiencing. Few sources of entertainment (and education, enlightenment, engagement, etc.) have endured as long as the ever-changing entity known as theatre.
The story, written by Eric Overmyer, concerns three women, intrepid explorers approaching the 20th century, who set off on a journey that inexplicably takes them through time and space---all the way to 1950’s America. Along the way, they meet various characters who guide or challenge them, as they begin to realize the evolution of their own identities and desires. The protagonists slash through forests, scale rocky surfaces, and ski on icy slopes in search of the elusive locale of Terra Incognita. And thanks to ABET’s dedicated production, the audience will be slashing, scaling, and skiing right along with them.
Photo by Seth Langner | Karmathartic Studios
Directed by Caryl Butterley, who was drawn to the time travel aspect of the script in hopes of getting more stories of this ilk onto local stages, On The Verge stars Sinda Nichols, Karen Overstreet, and Olivia Gowan as the explorers, and Lucas Hopper as the colorful beings they encounter. “But once I read the script,” Butterley says, “I was drawn to the language. Oh my gosh, the language is so rich, and crazy, and smart, and unlike anything I'd read before. And then as I began working on it with the actors, it's the characters and their spirit of camaraderie that I've come to adore.”
It’s a play that does not, in theory, immediately lend itself to being realized on a stage as intimate as ABET’s. But with nearly 150 sound cues, cinematic visuals, personalized and intricate costuming, lively choreography, and committed performances, the production strives to fill a much more cavernous space---the audience’s collective imagination. Butterley is hoping for potential show-goers “to step into the theatre with a willingness to let their imaginations travel right alongside our explorers and see where the journey leads them.”
Another uncommon facet of the play is the featuring of three primary, female characters with occupations that are traditionally male. But, On The Verge draws upon historical significance, such as the story of Elizabeth Bisland and Nellie Bly---two women who attempted to race around the globe in opposite directions in the late 1800’s. Stories like this tend to slip through the cracks of our history classes.
While some people may be quick to label this a feminist play, Butterley believes that “the idea of a journey of discovery and becoming who we're meant to be is as old as the hero's journey stories - which traditionally and for thousands of years has been almost exclusively male - so it is a universal story ... but now with women at the center. Is that feminist or is that transcending gender to tell a story everyone can relate to?”
Theatre is rarely about answers. It is about transformation. “It is easy to be open to explore within a place or situation that feels familiar,” Overstreet posits about her character’s arc, “but to allow ourselves to be truly open to experiencing the unfamiliar is scary. What if it changes us? It takes courage.”
Photo by Seth Langner | Karmathartic Studios
Hopper, who portrays his own ensemble of eight different characters, found the task challenging but rewarding. “I was given the chance to use whatever creative talents that I could find to give each character their own voices, mannerisms, and lives.” He continues, “From there, I took the inspiration and let my imagination and experimentation processes go to work…I feel that the characters I portray ultimately help the women to grow and understand themselves better than they originally thought that they did in the beginning of the show.”
Ideally, the characters are not alone in this metamorphosis. Theatre, more so than film or gaming or social media, is visceral and provocative. Especially a piece like this, despite featuring esoteric but wondrous language and demanding a consistent investment of attention. You may laugh or cry, but the true magic happens with the realization that you were, even if for just a few moments, completely and utterly enraptured in the world on stage.
On The Verge
or The Geography of Yearning
by Eric Overmyer
MAY 6 7 13 14 15* 20 21 22*
... FRI & SAT 8PM *SUN 2PM
A celebration of imagination, language, history, and pop culture, On The Verge is the story of three Victorian lady explorers who set off in 1888 to chart Terra Incognita, an unknown and mysterious land. Intelligent, intrepid, and inquisitive, they travel across the globe and soon make the startling discovery they are also travelling through time!
ABET – Atlantic Beach Experimental Theatre
716 Ocean Blvd at 7th St, Atlantic Beach, FL 32233
More Info: www.ABETtheatre.com
Tickets : https://abet-s24e06.eventbrite.com/
theatre preview by Cameron Pfahler
review of show upcoming