By HARRIETTE BRAINARD
MIDDLEBURY â€” Richard Romagnoli, a theater professor at Middlebury College, has dreamed of doing a production of the Peter Barnes play â€œThe Bewitchedâ€? since he saw the original Royal Shakespeare Company production in London in 1974.
The satire, set in 16th century Spain, features 50 roles and Romagnoli felt he never had the right mix of actors and technical expertise.
â€œI had to settle for teaching a class in Contemporary British Theater, until last year, when it became clear that I would have the actors and the means to finally put on this production,â€? explained Romagnoli.
He has the opportunity to premier his production this week â€” and on a national stage at that. The college theater department will stage â€œThe Bewitchedâ€? as a finalist in the American College Theater Festival competition at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., this Tuesday and Wednesday.
The troupe received the honor by winning the New England regional competition, which was held in February. More than 20,000 students and more than 1,200 student productions from colleges and universities nationwide took part in the preliminary competitions. Along with Middleburyâ€™s production, students from the University of Idaho, Kansas State University and the University of Evansville will also be performing as finalists in D.C.
Also making the trip are a number of Middlebury representatives who, in addition to taking part in the play, will be competing for individual awards. Junior Laura Harris, who plays Queen Marianna in â€œThe Bewitched,â€? is a nominee for an acting prize; junior Paul Doyle is a finalist for the student drama criticism award; and Laura Eckelman, a 2005 graduate, is competing for a lighting design prize.
Christina Galvez, a senior, is competing for a scenic design award. Faculty member Hallie Zieselman is mentoring students at the festival and participating in mastersâ€™ classes.
â€œThe Bewitchedâ€? presents a satirical view of the contemporary notion of blind obedience. It is presented within the context of 16th century Spain, during the reign of the last of the Spanish Hapsburgs, Carlos II, who was a tragic figure plagued with multiple physical and mental maladies. This production will feature a cast of 30 actors playing more than 50 roles.
Romagnoli is getting some help from two Middlebury alums who are members of the Equity professional actorsâ€™ guild.
â€œWe have always had many woman actors, but not as many men, and I did not want to do the production until I knew that I would have the cast,â€? said Romagnoli. â€œI knew that Alex Draper, an Equity actor and a Middlebury alum would be here as visiting professor; in addition, I had some male actors come in to the department in different ways such as first year theater courses.â€?
He also indicated that they were also very lucky to have another Equity actor and Middlebury alum arrive on campus â€” Mike Doyle.
â€œI did not expect to be chosen, although I entered this play in the competition because I knew that the literature needed a larger audience,â€? said Romagnoli. â€œI felt that this play in particular would do well and needed to be shown.â€?
With this in mind Romagnoli arranged for the London Theater Exchange to do a residency in Middlebury last fall specifically to work with the college company of actors on â€œThe Bewitched.â€? The students and actors worked with the London Theater Exchange six days a week for three weeks at the beginning of the fall semester.
â€œThis time with the London Exchange was invaluable as the text of â€œThe Bewitchedâ€? is unusual â€” very stylized, so it was very different for these students,â€? Romagnoli said. â€œThis is a different kind of Middlebury theater experience.â€?
Harris, a double major in theater and film, is one of the 16 finalists from a field of 300 nominees for the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarships, which provide financial assistance to outstanding student performers wishing to pursue further education and professional development opportunities. Harris has always been interested in acting and theater and hopes to continue this love of theater in a career as a professional actor. Yet she knew that she wanted to combine acting within a liberal arts curriculum. An Evanston, Ill., native, Harris spent most of summers growing up on Lake Dunmore, as her mother was originally from Rutland.
Harris confesses that she had not expected to reach the finals and had not even picked a monologue for the regional festival until the day before she delivered it.
â€œI did not expect to do well, or to reach the finalsâ€? in the regional competition, she said. â€œIt is all very subjective and arbitrary, if you go over the allotted time you are disqualified, and you only have six minutes to do two scenes and a monologue.â€?
Harris has received a $500 scholarship; a weeklong, all-expense-paid trip to the National Festival in D.C., and casting in the short play festival presentations. At the Kennedy Center, Harris will present her six-minute audition on Friday before an audience that includes a panel of judges comprised of leading artistic directors, actors, producers and casting agents.
If she wins she will receive a $2,500 award, and be eligible for a number of prestigious summer fellowships and cash awards.
This is the second time Romagnoli will have a production at the national competition. He also took a Middlebury College cast to the Kennedy Center in 1995.
OFF TO D.C.
Due to the large cast of â€œThe Bewitched,â€? Middlebury College will be sending the majority of the 41 students and faculty involved by bus on Monday. The rest flew down this weekend. Trucks with equipment and scenery will also be heading down to the Kennedy Center.
Romagnoli said that they would not be able to get onto the stage at the Kennedy center to set up until 7 a.m. on Tuesday, and the technical staff will have to have everything ready by 5 p.m., as the curtain goes up at 7 p.m. Romagnoli has scheduled 12 to 14 hours of rehearsal over the weekend before they leave, he said
â€œThey will have some adjustments as two of the actresses have sustained knee and ankle injuries and will be on crutches for the production,â€? he said.
Harris said in an interview last week the cast and crew are ready for this weekâ€™s performances. She said that the collegeâ€™s production of â€œThe Bewitchedâ€? was successful because â€œthere were no weak links. Everybody in the cast remarked that everybody worked so well together, so the show worked beautifully.â€?