The Northeast State Community College Theater Department takes a bold step forward in live theater production with the Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex debuting in October.
The production unites Sophocles’ ancient story with postmodern staging to create an elaborate drama unlike anything attempted by Northeast State Theater.
“The costumes, the masks, and the single set lend credence to the old Greek style,” said Brad McKenzie, the director of Oedipus. “There is a lot of work for the acting direction which is as ambitious as the design.”
The play opens with King Oedipus seeking a way to lift a curse on the city of Thebes. The solution given to him from the god Apollo sets in motion a series of tragic revelations about Oedipus and his life.
“We are trying to appeal to a young college-age crowd,” he says. “We really want to open up the possibilities of the live theater experience at the community college.”
McKenzie and students Adam Honeycutt, Richard Curtis, and Derek Smithpeters began formulating the play’s technical aspects earlier this year. The technical capabilities of the Wellmont Regional Center for the Performing Arts Theater make this one of the department’s most anticipated productions ever.
“It is fantastic to have student designers spend this much time with a production,” says Elizabeth M. Sloan, instructor and director of the Northeast State Theater program. “It is a lot of hard work, and as an actor, I’m excited to see the production come together with the cast and these creations.”
Curtis found a formula online to create the masks using a combination of joint compound, boiled linseed oil, tissue paper, flour, and glue. The result yields sturdy, flexible masks that hold paint and absorb light.
“I looked at the classic designs and developed a look we wanted,” says Curtis, mask designer and assistant scene designer. “I took Brad’s concept and put a modern spin on the masks.”
In the tradition of Greek theater, each character wears a mask. The twist comes through the stage effects of lighting and sound that amplify the dramatic tension and gives the audience a surround-sound feel of a character’s emotional state.
Honeycutt worked behind the scenes as stage manager on Dracula and Wizard. He creates the sound cues in Oedipus to work in concert with the dialogue and lighting design.
“We are all pretty competitive,” says Honeycutt of his colleagues. “I’ve learned a ton of stuff from Brad.”
Creating the deadly gashes and damaged bodies falls to Smithpeters and his skill with stage makeup. As it turns out, an artist can create the bloody effects of murder and mutilation with many common household products.
“We use liquid latex, coffee grounds, and oatmeal,” said Smithpeters. “You work with the textures and add some color.”
Curtis, Honeycutt, and Smithpeters are students and more, according to Sloan. All three have put in long hours for productions at Northeast State Theater. This project, she says, showcases their talents on a grand scale.
“We have one of the best technical departments of any college theater program in this region,” says Sloan. “I am delighted and amazed at the imagination and quality the students are putting into this production.”
A Northeast Status alumnus, McKenzie earned a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Southern Mississippi in theater design before bringing his talents back to Blountville. His work earned him a design award from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. He hopes this production could find its way to a nomination for the Kennedy Center Awards next year.
Opening night for Oedipus Rex is Oct. 13 at 7:30 p.m. in the WRCPA. Performances continue Oct. 13 – 16 at 7:30 p.m. and a matinée showing at 2 p.m. on Oct. 16. All performances will be held in the WRCPA Theater on the College’s main campus.
Tickets are $8 for adults, $6 for non-Northeast State students, seniors, military veterans, and emergency personnel. Performances are free to current Northeast State students, but those tickets must be picked up at the box office. Tickets can be purchased online now at www.NortheastState.edu or at the theater’s box office one hour prior to the show.
Northeast State Theater follows up the fall semester with the holiday performance of The Littlest Angel (rights pending) in December. The Christmas play doesn’t give the techies any time off. Sets must be built, sound cues rehearsed, and the next show goes forward.
“We’ve set a pretty high standard,” says McKenzie. “This is going to be a fun semester.”