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Japanese parlor game makes for great play

April 25, 2014

“Kwaidan: Strange Tales from East Asia” runs from April 24 through April 26 and May 1 through May 3 at UW-River Falls and the cast and crew are working hard to scare their audiences.

The show is based on an old parlor game played in 18th century Japan. The participants would stay up all night with 100 candles and tell 100 ghost stories and demons would be summoned if all the stories were told and all of the candles were blown out by the storytellers before the sun came up.

Robin E. Murray, a professor of communication studies and theatre arts at UWRF, and Jeremiah Liend, a student on campus, collaborated to write the original script for this play but they said it has really come together as the cast members started working on it with them.

The show uses puppetry, projected scenery and dance to tell strange, eerie, bizarre, supernatural and sometimes enlightening folk and ghost stories from China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Murray said that the show is nothing like what she imagined it to be, which is good because it has grown and become a one-of-a-kind show.

“It is nothing like I thought it would be when I first thought of the idea and that is so cool,” Murray said.

Liend said the process of writing and directing the show has been stressful but that it has been fun to watch everything come together.

“The thing that I took away from it, or the sort of learning moment that I had, was that the script that I would have written without everybody would have paled in comparison,” Liend said.

The show consists of 12 cast members and each one plays a character that goes by their own name but they have chosen certain characteristics for their character that are not necessarily like themselves.

The cast and crew have been rehearsing since the end of January. Five nights a week for three or four hours they run lines, go over blocking, rework scenes, write and rewrite, practice with puppets and do the same scenes over again until they are correct.

“With school work and stuff it can get a little tricky just because it is so time consuming, but I think that it’s all about time management,” said the stage manager Vanessa Agnes, who is a student at UWRF with a double major in communication studies and theater arts.

Many of the cast members are majoring or minoring in theater at UWRF so their classes sometimes work around the shows and their busy schedules. Still, some cast members stay up most of the night to get homework done.

“We have no lives,” said Ashley Sager, a cast member.

The months of rehearsal and hard work all amount to only eight performances in the Sanford Syse Theatre. The shows all start at 7:30 p.m. and run for about an hour and 15 minutes. There will also be two matinees for middle school kids.

“Rehearsals are fun and everything but I think that once you get to that final stage and it’s all polished and you get an audience out there and people just tell you how much they love it, I think that’s really rewarding,” Agnes said.

During the last few rehearsals everyone is struggling with last-minute challenges. One of the problems they face is getting bored working on the same scenes over and over again so they have to find ways to keep the energy up.

They stop frequently to point out inconsistencies, problem spots and questions that arise. With the direction of Liend and Murray. they work through problems and help each other out and give feedback.

But it is not all serious work. Each member of the cast has a set of trading cards with their names and characters on them and their personal description of themselves as well as their strengths and weaknesses. They trade the cards among themselves and sign them as memorabilia from the show.

Although the trading cards were made just for the cast members, audience members can get in on the fun by purchasing a $2 deck of ghost cards. Each card has a photo and description of each ghost from the Asian ghost stories, many of which are being told during the show. People can also purchase tickets to sit on floor mats in the middle of the theater to get a feel for Asian culture and be in the middle of the scary stories. There are also chairs and benches available for the same price.

Tickets can be purchased in the Kleinpell Fine Arts building at the box office. Student tickets are $5, adult tickets are $11 and senior tickets are $9. The phone number for the box office is 715-425-3114.

Students are encouraged to get involved in the University Theater, according to the University website. There are opportunities available to act, build scenery and costumes, work backstage, manage and work publicly.

For more information visit http://www.uwrf.edu/CSTA/TheatreArts/UniversityTheatre2013.cfm or contact Director of Theater Kenneth Stofferahn at 715-425-3101 for more information about how to get involved.