OGDEN — Innovation Theatre is a compilation of three separate one act performances showcased on one night. Each performance lasted about 30 minutes, with a ten-minute intermission in between each show. The advertisement for the show states that these performances were an opportunity to allow innovation and creativity take center stage.
Stronger Than Fear, written and directed by Mackinzie Flinders
This show is based on the story of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani young woman who was shot by the Taliban, but survived to tell her story, gain world recognition, and win a Nobel Peace Prize. Flinders did an outstanding job of bringing this story to life. Each of the ensemble members took on different roles, from representing Malala herself to representing other students, family members, onlookers, and terrorists who were responsible for harming Malala. The production focused on the idea that courage can be stronger than fear. The cast consisted of eight players that worked so seamlessly together that it is impossible to highlight just one. The lighting designed by Kylee Ty Fox was exquisite, with an ingenious use of silhouettes and stage screens in order to change the atmosphere and feeling of the performances. The movement that Flinders designed with the actors was quite moving, and I noticed that I was not the only audience member that had tears in my eyes as we watched the discussion of courage in the face of fear.
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, written and directed by Ashley Patterson
Next was The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, based upon a factory fire in 1911 that killed 146 workers died. Patterson developed this story to tell about how different people tried to escape the tragedy and examine the thoughts they would have had during the crisis. One thing that stood out immediately in this part of the evening was the costuming by Amanda Dobbs. The costumes had small elements, such as underskirts that resembled fire, that gave a strong nod to the dire situation. Also, makeup designer Jackie Fredrickson gave some of the players more ash upon their face as the story telling progressed. One of my favorite parts was the sound, by Monroe Howell and Maxwell Gilchrist, who stood in a corner of the stage with sound effects that produced chilling and effective results. This production also excelled in lighting, with two designers, Colby Alvis and Lara Vo, developing interesting ways to help the lights tell the story of fire, fear, fight, and survival.
R&J, written and directed by Kaylee Orr
The final performance was R&J, a condensed telling of the story of Romeo and Juliet with a modern hip-hop perspective. Additionally, modern popular music was added. While I understood the idea behind Kaylee Orr’s concept, it didn’t play well upon stage. A strong element was the hip-hop beat used with the words of Shakespeare. Sound designer Kyle A. Lawrence has a good ear for the patterns of Shakespeare’s words, and he was able to create a nice rhythmic flow in the performance. However, condensing Romeo and Juliet into the space of half an hour left me with a feeling of puzzlement that two young people would drastically alter their lives after a first meeting. Additionally, the placement of modern, recognizable songs distracted from the rhythmic flow of the rest of the performance, and it may have been better to lean more towards the traditional script. The choice to have Romeo portrayed as a female played well, especially as Aalliyah Ann Jenks was excellent in the role, and she was the strongest player of the evening. She did slightly overshadow Cassidy Wixom as Juliet, which was noticed more in the songs than the dialogue, further leaving me to wonder if the production would have been better served by not having the songs at all.
It can be daunting to put on new theatre and push the boundaries of audience expectations and the typical college curriculum, and I commend the students at Weber State for this worthwhile exploration of stage storytelling. While the performances and script were not perfect, the ideas certainly match the concept of innovation that the title proposes, and the evening was an enjoyable and interesting look at how concepts, stage design, and acting all interact to develop good theatrical entertainment.