Theatre UCF’s 2022-23 season gave audiences a space to objectively examine the human condition in all its forms. From epic parables of power struggles to heartwarming tales of romance, each production reflected on issues relevant to today’s world while inviting audiences to draw their own conclusions. This post-pandemic season also celebrated the complete return of Theatre UCF performances without masks or other COVID-19-related restrictions after two years.
The season’s first play, The Interference, presented a disturbingly common example of an individual’s struggle against institutional power. The play’s unique storytelling and ensemble format resulted in rave reviews from audiences and critics. However, the final week of performances was cut short by Hurricane Ian, which forced the university to temporarily close.
For Aubree Williams, a BFA Acting senior who played the lead role, the cancellation came as a disappointment. She has since gained a positive perception of the experience, citing her gratitude for the seven weeks of rehearsals leading up to the performances.
“The growth and storytelling created in the rehearsal space was so vital to my experience as a cast member, and I was so thankful that I got the chance to spend the time learning in that space,” Williams said. “The performances were just the cherry on top, and while it wasn’t what we had planned or expected the outcome to be, it was something I look back on with fondness and gratitude.”
Theatre UCF’s modern update of Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso’s musical Working opened to standing ovations. In line with the play’s themes spotlighting the behind-the-scenes workers of everyday life, the production itself showcased the many student designers who collaborated to make the show possible.
This celebration of student talent also served as the 30th and final production directed by Associate Professor Earl Weaver, who worked with the School of Performing Arts for 20 years before his recent retirement. By the final show of the production, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room full of students and alumni who are grateful for Weaver’s service.
“Directing Working was an absolutely delightful experience. I had an amazing cast, many of whom were new to our mainstage season,” Weaver said. “The student designers I got to work with did outstanding work on the show and were very collaborative. The whole team really came together to create a beautiful piece of art.”
The final production of the fall 2022 semester offered levity and romance with Shakespeare’s lesser-known comedy As You Like It. Audiences saw characters breaking free from society’s norms and expectations as they found a new home in the Forest of Arden. Reimagined in 1930’s Europe, Theatre UCF’s production offered insight into current issues without sacrificing laughter, music and dancing.
“For this season, I wanted to direct a play that gave us the possibility of regeneration and renewal,” says Director Vivian Majkowski. “Especially with the social and cultural morass that this country is in, and also coming out of lockdowns and COVID measures, As You Like It offers a space for people to remember love, connection and the idea that when we pause and see what’s around us, the beauty is infinite.”
The spring 2023 semester kicked off boldly with Bertolt Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui. The satirical parable chronicles Hitler’s rise to power through the story of 1930’s mobster Arturo Ui, who ruthlessly disposes of opposition while the audience wonders if anyone will stand up to the buffoonery.
Director Christopher Niess built on Brecht’s unique storytelling techniques by staging the production as a movie set in Hollywood’s Golden Age. This idea of a “play within a play” uses alienation effect, which creates distance between the audience and the story, allowing them to reflect on the themes of the work – and how they relate to today’s world.
“It is one thing to study the dramatic theory behind Brecht’s work and Verfremdungseffekt (alienation effect) in a classroom setting,” Niess said. “It is entirely another thing to be fortunate enough to participate with a creative team to witness the power, appeal, and relevance that The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui can have performed for a contemporary audience. This was a unique experience essential for educational theatre.”
Home of the Brave illuminated the joys, anxieties, pride and struggles of military family life, drawing inspiration from interviews with children of service members. The theatre for young audiences (TYA) production had a run in February at the UCF Black Box as well as a one-day show at UCF Celebrates the Arts.
Christian Anderson, director of the production and TYA graduate student, was inspired by the reactions from audiences.
“With any TYA piece, the most rewarding aspect is seeing the young people’s reactions in the audience,” Anderson said. “They laughed, gasped, cheered, and teared up in all the places we expected them to, and some where we didn’t. Children often have the most honest reactions to a piece, so they are the perfect case study for seeing what the audiences really think.”
The season closed on a hopeful note with Bright Star. The musical offered an antidote to cynicism with sentimental bluegrass music and a story of love and redemption. Critics praised the show’s music, scenic design, costumes and choreography – and most of all, the unwavering optimism of the cast.
“Bright Star was a joy for all to work on,” said Director Michael Wainstein. “The music and story were so inspirational, and the cast made quite a journey from the first rehearsal to the run of the show. They grew artistically and the environment in the room where we rehearsed was influenced by the love and joy in the play itself. Guided musically by Richard Crawley and Terry Thomas, the experience was a special and cherished one.”
Pegasus PlayLab, a festival dedicated to developing works by emerging playwrights, returned this year with three staged readings and a full production of a new play first workshopped at Orlando Shakes’ PlayFest 2022. The staged readings included summertime (an interlude) by Aniello Fontano, Building a Shared Home, a collaborative piece created by people of all abilities, and Go Like Saints by Skye Robinson Hillis. Theatre UCF brought a new play to the Main Stage with a full production of Bite Me.