OGDEN — At the end of the season each year at Weber State, the theatre students get a chance to truly shine with Innovation Theatre, where they take existing works and put their own spin on them to show what they have learned throughout their education. Under the artistic direction of professor Tracy Callahan, this is a fantastic night to see the budding talent and education that is happening in the theatrical world of northern Utah.
The evening consisted of four student-directed shows, each with their own feel and development. The first was Sappho, directed by Lily Hilton and starring M. Rayburn as Sappho, Grace Zito as Sappho’s lover, and Monse Gutierrez, Kaplan Keener, and Dixon Trumbo as the Greek Chorus. This production had some fantastic techinical elements, especially with lighting deign by Tichelle Blaylock and projection design by Cully Long and Porter Lance. Using the design elements to convey the emotions of Sappho in her writing was very fitting, and I loved how the projections incorporated that writing on to the screen.
The second production was entitled the Quick and the Dad, directed by Jake Stubbs. This was a clever take on the traditional Western movie, and it was by far the most humourous of the evening. Utilizing the traditional Clown 1 and Clown 2 approach to slapstick plays, Carson Patrick McFarland and Madison Rigby as the Clowns were outstanding in performing their many roles. Rigby, especially, was able to portray many different characters and had spectacular comedic timing. I also appreciated how McFarland was able to improv for some technical difficulties with professional flair.
The third installment of the evening, I, Medusa, directed by Natalie Lichfield Clarke, was a powerful reinterpretation of the Medusa story through the lens of female empowerment. I was particularly impressed with the choreography by Gina Fuller, and her attention to providing trigger warnings about sensitive topics, like sexual assault. There were warnings in the program, on the walls of the theatre, and vocalized before the show. Keeping with that sensitivity, Clarke’s the direction and choreography was well thought out and considerate. This production also had beautiful costume design, especially the costume of Ceto. Designer Madison Grissom took inspiration from angels and stone and let it lead her to a design I could not have expected and made it a very visually interesting piece.
The final piece of the night, 5150, directed by Madison Grissom, was my favorite. As a therapist, I was impressed by the sheer level of research and understanding that went into the writing, acting, and everything about the presentation of mental health in this performance. In particular, the costumes of the three subconsciouses (designed by Julie Porter) was perfect for portraying things like deep depression, anxiety, and anger. I also appreciated how the comedian, played by Spencer Sanders, was using actual therapeutic techniques to calm his subconscious challenges, yet also truthfully acknowledging within the writing of the piece the limitations of therapy, from imperfect therapists to clients struggling to voice their concerns. Even the title shows the proper understanding of mental health and the challenges that are laced in it. While it could easily also be a triggering production, with its open discourse of suicide and self-harm, it also represents a very needed look at how society needs to be aware of the pain and suffering of others.
The big picture of all the productions speaks to the excellent education the theatre students at Weber State University are receiving. The evening I spent at the theatre was just as good as an evening I would have spent at any professional theatre in the state and elsewhere. The level of professionalism and tackling of difficult topics shows how they have grown in the art form with their education and that they are learning to not just replicate theatre but create and develop theatre. We in Utah are rich with many theatrical venues, but it should not be forgot that we are also rich in theatrical education.