COLUMBIA — A series of original and adapted works written and performed by MU students and a Grammy-nominated storyteller, as well as the results of a week-long workshop led by guest artist Tim Miller, promises to be a departure from the traditional theater experience.
The "Life and Literature Performance Series" runs for three evenings at MU and then moves to Boonville for a final, and different, production; in Boonville, the comedic melodrama "The Return of Aunt Susan" is directed by Gloria Dossett and produced by playwright Mary Barile.
What: Life and Literature Performance Series
When: 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Thursday through Saturday in the Corner Playhouse, Hitt Street and University Avenue; Sunday at Thespian Hall, 522 Main St., Boonville
Admission: Free at Corner Playhouse; in Boonville, $3 for children, $5 for adults.
The MU performances include "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi," adapted from Rudyard Kipling's story of the same name, "Giants," based on a tale about a boy named Jack (of beanstalk fame), "The Hollow Men," a classic T.S. Eliot poem and Columbia storyteller Milbre Burch's two pieces: "Djuha and the Figs," a traditional Middle Eastern folk tale, and "Meeting Martin," a spirited retelling of a legend of St. Martin of Tours.
Heather Carver, a theater professor at MU who specializes in performance art and is the director for the Writing in Performance program, is the artistic director for the series. Carver said performance art lends itself to "an intense collaboration between the audience and the performer," a collaboration that works perfectly for the diverse tales on stage.
The space itself adds to the intimacy of the performances. Its walls draped in black curtains, its floor painted black, the Corner Playhouse is an archetypal black box. "The black box theater is the stage of choice" for performance art, Carver said. "It can be transformed for different pieces, different worlds."
Many of the original tales are taken from personal experiences, such as MU doctoral student Matt Fotis' works, "The Medical Stimulator" and "The Day the Music Died."
"The Medical Stimulator" is about his father's struggle with lymphoma, which Fotis said "has a happy ending, don't worry." "The Day the Music Died" is a more comedic turn, involving Fotis' transition from childhood to adulthood when he is given a lamp as a gift.
The Chicago native is no stranger to performing; Fotis is a stand-up comedian and has formed a theater group in Chicago. He enjoys autobiographical performing, saying, "I'm a terrible actor. I'm much better at playing myself."
All of the works are performed by soloists, except for "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi."
Burch, who was nominated for a Grammy in 2007 in the Best Spoken Word Album for Children category, participated in the series last year.
"It's always wonderful to see your work in the company of the work of your peers," Burch said. "It's one of the joys of being a solo performer in a group of other works."