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‘The Claire Play’ world premiere a magical journey

October 23, 2015

A play about a love-inspired magical journey is just that for its cast and director.

"The Claire Play," a modern fable making its world premiere on Indiana State University's New Theater stage Nov. 4-8, is equal parts challenging and thrilling, say actors Annalyce Winkler (Claire) and Maverick Schmit (Devon, Cowboy and Man).

"It's an honor. There's something about being the team that puts a piece of art on its feet for the first time," said Schmit, a theater major from Danville, Ill. "Reina Hardy, the playwright, really put something magical together, and I hope the first time she sees it produced, it's something she's proud of."

"It's wonderful to have the opportunity, but it's also incredibly daunting. Because there's no one else's take to look at, there's no way to tell if I'm doing it wrong," said Winkler, a theater major from Elkhart. "It keeps you from cheating. I can't be like, ‘Oh, I don't know I would feel in this situation, so I'm going to watch this production and see how they handle her emotions.'"

Director Julie Dixon, associate professor of theater, selected the play because she wanted to put on a visually spectacular production for the community.

"I thought this would be the perfect vehicle to show what we're capable of doing. It's a very magical play," she said.

In addition to interpreting a never-staged script, the play's scientifically inspired content is another challenge.

"The playwright loves science and she loves magic. It was really challenging for me to turn myself into an astrophysicist. ‘OK, I have the weekend to turn myself into an astrophysicist. Where do I start?'" Dixon said with a laugh.

But with science and magic come grand visual opportunities. For instance, the set design was inspired by an 18th century orrery -- a model of the planets and sun -- because the universe is where most of the action takes place.

Visits by characters such as the Greek playwright Aristophanes, astronomer Johannes Kepler and Harvard star computer Henrietta Swan Leavitt add another layer to the play's aesthetics.

"It will be gorgeous," Dixon said. "It has a very dreamlike feel. We've tried to create this magically shifting space. It's the idea that the universe can magically accommodate whatever Claire wants to happen."

Fables are a way to explain "the really big things in life," Dixon said. And this one, like most folktales, offers a cautionary tale.

"Things don't work out very well for (Claire) in the end," Dixon said. "When a god grants your wish, you need to be careful what you wish for. It's a folktale in some ways about how sometimes you get what you want -- and it's not what you wanted at all. Be careful when you say you're done with life," as Claire does.
Because the play is about its namesake's emotional journey, most of the first act is a monologue for Winkler.

"It's not so much the memorization or the lines themselves, but it's keeping things moving things forward," Winkler said. "There's parts where it's just pages of talking, and you have to keep everyone's attention and get the ideas across."

Schmit's characters vary from Claire's childhood love Devon, Cowboy and Man, who is the god character. Switching gears from being a 10-year-old boy with a terminal illness to a god is tough to balance, he said.
Dixon has been in contact with Hardy, the playwright, to ask a few questions, but only when absolutely necessary.

"I've tried to keep my correspondence with the playwright to very simple detail things. I don't want to bother her," Dixon said.

Hardy will be in attendance for one of the productions -- which production is a mystery to the cast, however.

"I'm going to be nervous, because we want to make her proud and do justice to the beauty she's written," Winkler said. "I think it will be nerve-wracking to meet her, but it's also going to be incredibly interesting. She's going to have seen the show, and there's going to be a discourse, something to talk about - ‘I loved this. You didn't do this.' I'm excited."

Schmit joked that Hardy will question him being cast, but then added "I'm excited. I've never had this opportunity before."

"The Claire Play" is the second main stage production showcasing new work this season. The first was "Willy Shakes Pair," which featured three renditions by Indiana State advanced playwriting students Tim Dick and Nancy Jane Thompson.

"The (theater) department has always had a commitment to new work," Dixon said.

Winkler says she hopes the audience takes away an appreciation for love and a greater respect for the universe.

"If we get done late and it's dark, I want them to walk out of the theater and look at the stars," Winkler said.

Performances are 7:30 p.m. Nov. 4-7 and 4 p.m. Nov. 7-8. Tickets are $10 each, with up to 50 seats available for presale, noon-4:30 p.m. Nov. 2-6 in the New Theater lobby, 536 N. 7th St. All other tickets will be available for purchase beginning 90 minutes before each performance. Indiana State students' admission is free with a valid student ID.

For more information, call the ticket office at 812-237-3333.

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Contact: Michael Speck, instructor, department of theater at Indiana State University, michael.speck@indstate.edu or 812-237-3337.

Writer: Libby Roerig, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or libby.roerig@indstate.edu