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For faculty, students in the performing arts, the stage is their lab

December 6, 2019 | Jeffrey Cassady, RAE Staff Writer |

Actor on the stags
“A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas”
Students and faculty members will demonstrate their acting skills and their commitment to their craft this evening when the Department of Theatre puts on its annual production of “A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas.”
The play will be the culmination of months of hard work and planning. And that preparation isn’t limited to auditions and rehearsals.
Getting the look and feel of a play right – whether it’s “A Christmas Carol” or any other play – usually requires deep dives into multiple fields of study, said Sara Schoch, assistant professor in the theater department.
“It takes me months,” Schoch said. “I read tons of books, listen to tons of podcasts. I research themes; I research time periods.”
Directors and actors must research history, dialects, demographics, and other subjects to make sure that costumes look convincing and that the characters sound right.
This research also informs directors’ and actors’ interpretation of plays, and it can go a long way toward making a work relevant to modern audiences.
For instance, Schoch said she spent a great deal of time researching depression and mental illness for a production of Richard Rogers’ and Oscar Hammerstein II’s musical “Oklahoma!” This preparation helped her provide context for the characters in the play.
“Jud (a main character in 'Oklahoma!') was clinically depressed,” Schoch said. “So, I did a lot of research on that – not only how that manifests itself in humans, but in men and specifically men in that time period.”
“Oklahoma!” is set in 1906.
Another goal of Schoch’s preparation for “Oklahoma!” was to find ways to make hope, one of the musical’s themes, relevant to modern audiences, she said.
“I think about how I’m going to tell that story today,” Schoch said. “How do I translate that joy and that freedom? There always is a way.”
After some research is done, rehearsals provide a chance for actors and crewmembers to apply what they’ve learned and to experiment with ideas.
“The stage is our lab,” Schoch said. “We – the director, production team, and cast of students – will collaborate on what the direction (for the play) will be.”
The arts and the humanities are an important part of any university’s research portfolio, said Dr. Matthew Schwartz, assistant vice president of research administration and director of the University of West Florida Office of Research Administration and Engagement.
"University research and scholarly activities take so many forms across our curricula,” Schwartz said.
“UWF humanities and arts faculty regularly demonstrate the rigor and impact of their performance and studio research and scholarly activities."
Performances of “A Christmas Carol” will be held Dec. 6-8 and Dec. 13-15 at the UWF Center for Fine and Performing Arts.