Minimal set maximizes story in 'Our Town'

image“Our Town,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning story that kick off the college’s theatre season, relies on few set pieces to create the imaginary town of Grover’s Corners. Author Thornton Wilder calls upon audiences to focus on the spoken word of the show and the message of the characters to build the story.

“Wilder’s intention for production was to emphasize the presence of the actor and the spoken word, supported by costume, sound and lighting design with minimal scenic elements,” director Mark Cole said. “The lyrical language of the play eloquently works on the audience’s imagination so that it creates the visual details of time and place.”

Senior theatre major Chris Cherkis, the production’s set designer, said the approach lends a specific challenge for staging. “Thornton Wilder specifically describes an empty theatre, with minimal sets and props,” Cherkis said. “Creating a set design where the author calls for almost no scenery forces a designer and director to really use their imagination and resources.”

The idea for minimal set designs was groundbreaking in the 1930s, when Wilder debuted “Our Town. “This approach was radical in 1938 when the play was first produced. Audiences were accustomed to realistic plays that often elaborately emphasized the specific details of time and place and, for Wilder, lacked the quality of universality and theatricality,” said Cole, professor and chair of theatre at Oswego.

“The approach of playing out the events of ‘Our Town’ on an open stage engages the audience directly and essentially makes it a character in the play,” Cole said. “The play uses flashbacks and an awareness of the fluid nature of time as it explores the significance of fully living the present moment.”

Julie Pretzat, professor and chair of SUNY Oswego’s music department, directs the musical preparation for “Our Town.” “Chorus members in this show, along with the song selections, assist in creating the atmosphere for the play in particular,” Pretzat explained.

The curtain rises at 8 p.m. Oct. 19 to 22, with a 2:30 p.m. Sunday matinee on Oct. 23.

A talk-back, led by SUNY Oswego faculty members Jessica Hester of theatre and Robert Moore of English, will follow the Oct. 20 evening performance.

A high school matinee of “Our Town” is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 20, at 9:30 a.m.

For the regular run, tickets cost $10, $9 for seniors and students, and $7 for SUNY Oswego students.

For reservations or information, call the Tyler Hall box office at 312-2141 or e-mail

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(Posted: Sep 30, 2005)