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The dearly departed tell their tales in ETBU’s performance of Spoon River Anthology

November 17, 2020

East Texas Baptist University’s School of Communication and Performing Arts transported audiences to a nineteenth-century cemetery last weekend during their latest production, Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology. The play, based on Masters’ collection of poetry by the same name, was adapted and directed by ETBU senior theatre arts majors Kelley Malin and Karli Hubbert.

The collection of free verse, poetic monologues spoken by the interred townsfolk of the Spoon River, Illinois cemetery, ranged from humorous to tragic. Nearly 100 short monologues, brought to life by an ensemble of twelve performers, weave together relationships and a shared narrative featured in Spoon River Anthology. Student director Kelley Malin rose to the challenge provided by the show’s various moving parts to create a cohesive unit with a deeper meaning.

“The overriding idea is that all individuals within a community and the stories those individuals create are tethered together like a tree’s root system,” Malin shared. “We encouraged our actors to tell their characters’ unique stories by using their voices and bodies in different ways. God has graciously allowed us to showcase the beauty and depth of these characters in Spoon River in hopes of connecting our ETBU community and the stories we all have to tell.”

Each actor took on anywhere from six to ten distinct roles with different voices, mannerisms, and movements to distinguish them. Although the cast confronted a diverse rehearsal schedule with COVID-19 precautions, as well as the unique opportunity to play multiple roles, student director Karli Hubbert enjoyed being part of a team that looked for the bright side and happily embraced the new normal.

“We have worked through many struggles, including limited rehearsal time, COVID-19 preventative measures, and the procurement of costumes and props in the midst of social distancing, to get to this point,” Hubbert shared. “Kelley and I set out to make these monologues flow in regard to the many stories they tell. In that vein, we integrated scenic elements, costumes, and connected characters to highlight the storytelling in the production, and we thank our fabulous cast and crew for getting us this far.”

The production also showcased set, lighting, sound, and costume design by students in the Department of Theatre Arts, under the supervision of Professors of Theatre Arts John Dement and Joshua Scott. In addition, the student actors had the opportunity to demonstrate their range, as well as the chance to work and grow under the direction of their peers.

“It was an interesting transition to go from working with Kelley and Karli as my friends and classmates to being under their direction, but Kelley and Karli take their work seriously,” senior theatre performance and speech communication major Audrey Staples said. “They have worked alongside many of us for years now and have been able to take what they know about us and what they've learned as actors themselves and apply that to their directing style. We worked a lot on characterization and getting us out of our comfort zones, so we were able to think creatively when it came to creating characters.”

The ETBU Department of Theatre Arts' spring production of Shrek the Musical will follow University health and safety protocols. Shrek the Musical will run in February 2021.