Students working together can form a powerful force. Their work is passionate and selfless, driven by purer ideals than monetary successes. The U of C drama department's Taking Flight festival is a perfect example of this. Last year the entirely student run festival was a huge hit, not surprising considering it was constructed from the blood, sweat and tears of some of the most creative minds on campus. This year there are even higher expectations for this much anticipated theatrical collage. Sam Al-Saber, a masters student considers himself fortunate to have the opportunity to take part in such a festival.
"It involves the entire department," he remarks. "It's a nice way to bring everything together in the end, and last year was such a success that I think its going to be a mainstay."
However, Al-Saber, who is directing Never Swim Alone by Daniel MacIvor as part of his pre-thesis work, believes in order for anyone to truly understand the level of dedication and professionalism the students exhibit, they must experience it first hand. Al-Saber describes his play as meta-theatrical.
"It goes beyond regular theatre," he explains. "It deals with the theatricality of art itself."
The play is about two strikingly similar male characters who are constantly competing. A single swim-suited female character acts as the referee, judge and, in some elliptical way, the pretext for a surreal competition between the two men. Al-Saber has taken some creative license, casting two females as the ever competitive Bill and Frank, as well as three females as referees.
"The casting brings the competition to the surface," he says. "There is even a penis contest alluded to, showing how ridiculous their behavior really is."
With this, Al-Saber recognizes he has caught my interest and is kind enough to allow me to watch a portion of their rehearsal.
He and stage manager Meg Finkelman lead me through the basement of Cragie Hall to the humble and poorly sound-proofed rehearsal room where the cast is waiting to begin. Al-Saber has the ladies start, paying particular attention to blocking. Claire Davis, Amanda Fox and Julie Mortensen play the role of the referee and must coordinate speech and many of their actions together. I am struck by their enthusiasm even after Al-Saber has them redo a part with their towels over and over again. Rachel Gilliatt (Frank) and Julie Orton (Bill) are charged with the equally difficult task of imitating men, however, it is clear right from the get go they have researched their characters well. Everything from mannerisms to a slightly swaggered walk suggests the gender they are mimicking.
"We were given lessons in urinal etiquette," Gilliatt informs.
"Our voices dropped naturally," adds Orton.
Of course, with everyone being a students, some unique challenges present themselves. The majority of the cast agree it's easy to experience burn out, juggling rehearsals with regular classes.
"Everyone has a zillion things to do," Finkelman points out. "Most of us have multiple roles designing, building, et cetera, but everyone is willing to help. It's really a great experience to work through."
Al-Saber and cast believe audiences will enjoy the festival, emphasizing there is something for everyone to enjoy in this incredibly affordable night out. As for Never Swim Alone, it offers its own particular perks.
"There are three girls in swimsuits and a few fights," exclaims Davis. "What more could you ask for?"