MU play "Holding Up the Sky" receives Kennedy Center honor

Wednesday, January 6, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 10:43 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 12, 2010

COLUMBIA – Thanks to an unusual collaboration, "Holding Up the Sky," a play by Grammy-nominated Columbia resident Milbre Burch, has been transformed from a thesis performance into a stylized and dynamic piece.

The play, directed by MU professor and department chair Clyde Ruffin with an original score by Tori Meyer, has been selected as a regional finalist for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival.

“It’s pretty exciting to see the production get the recognition,” said Burch, an MU doctoral candidate in theater.

The play has seen a long evolution, with a range of talents contributing to the piece it is today.

"Usually you have a playwright and they write the play," Ruffin said. "This was a fairly organic and unusual way of producing a play."

The piece grew out of a solo performance for Burch’s thesis show. Coupled with the hard work and imagination of the director, actors and composer, the play evolved into a tale of peace, justice and reconciliation.

Grounded in folk tales, the play centers on war and its impact on society . Dance ritual and rich movement were added to the production.

There is no scenery in the play, only performance space. The actors' movements and body shapes work to create a sense of place.

Burch said she felt the work was such a collective effort that the honor was not just hers to claim.

“I had a really remarkable opportunity to work with a director who placed his confidence in me and in the actors,” she said. “The actors acted their hearts out. It has an incredible ensemble cast.”

There will be an encore performance of the play on Jan. 15 at Rhynsburger Theatre before the festival premiere on Jan. 20 at Johnson County Community College in Kansas City, Kan.

The prestigious Kennedy Center festival is the only national competition for college theater. Eight regional festivals are held in January and February, from which four to six pieces will be chosen for a performance at the Kennedy Center.

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