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Week of 19 February 1999

Vol. II, No. 24


Facing one's fears in The Maiden Stone

by Judith Sandler

Above the main stage of the Boston University Theatre are inscribed these words from Hamlet: "To hold as 'twere the mirror up to nature." The essence of Rona Munro's mythic play The Maiden Stone can be distilled in Shakespeare's words.

Alhough the School for the Arts theatre arts division production of the 1995 play will be in the theater's smaller Studio 210, The Maiden Stone encompasses nothing less than the scope and breadth of life. "It's an immense story about good and evil, time and decay, and coming to grips with your own mortality," says director Judy Braha, SFA assistant professor. "Also tremendously witty and full of wonderful, crazy characters, it's the universal found in the personal."

The play will be presented from Wednesday, February 24, through Saturday, February 27.

Loosely based on fact and set in the landscape of the author's native northeast Scotland, The Maiden Stone follows Harriet, a down-on-her-luck Victorian actress, and her family as they wander the roads of Scotland, seeking food and shelter and the opportunity to perform. Also traveling along the road are Bidie, a tinker and storyteller, and her family. Lurking behind the scenes, driving the action, causing the problems that plague these travelers who meet on the road is Nick, the devil.

The tinker, an open, beneficent, almost Mother Nature-like figure, and the self-centered actress, says Braha, "are learning the same lessons at this particular point in their lives. It's a very moving and familiar journey, even though it's removed from us in time and space.

"I've been looking at the story like a fairy tale, or myth, about a woman trying to focus on her role in the world," Braha says. "It's something we continue to grapple with now: can a woman have a career and a family? Can a woman stand up and fight for what she believes? As a middle-aged woman with a newly acquired child, I can identify with a story about the difficulty of mixing family and work."

Assistant Professor Paula Langton plays the role of Bidie, and she also finds the story to be grounded in very real issues: "Are you going to live your life, feel all the pain of it, and deal with the devil," she asks, "or are you going to freeze up and become a stone?" Braha adds, "And to me, The Maiden Stone is also the stone around your neck that you carry when you can't transcend your demons."

Langton, head of voice and speech at SFA, stepped into the role when a student became ill. "It's been very challenging to deal with my full-time schedule on top of rehearsals," she says. "This struggle with my own responsibilities has taught me about Bidie. No matter what comes, she keeps going; she faces it. Maybe Bidie is always struggling with the option to close off, freeze up, or open up to the next experience."

SFA Assistant Professor Paula Langton (center) plays Bidie in The Maiden Stone. Clockwise from top right are Bret Slater (SFA'02), Jessica Lavin (SFA'01), Ashley Williams (SFA'01), Jessie Dickey (SFA'01), Cortney Keim (SFA'01), Amber McDonald (SFA'01), and Abby Huston (SFA'01). Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

For the student actors, it is a challenge to take on roles beyond their years and experience. "It was intimidating at first," says Catherine Maddox (SFA'99), who plays Harriet, "because I'm young for this role, but I think I can relate to what she's going through. Although I haven't experienced that specific circumstance, I've had the same basic feelings."

Even less familiar, out-of-the-ordinary roles are accessible, the students have found. "I consider myself friendly, nice, easygoing," says Christopher Drescher (SFA'99), whose role of Nick is certainly a stretch. "But what's bizarre about playing this role is I find so much pleasure in doing evil things to these people. As an actor, you tap into places that can be kind of scary. It's part of your discipline to separate yourself as a person from these dark places."

"Everyone can discover something about themselves in the play," says Jesse Weaver (SFA'99), who plays Archie, Harriet's husband. "It rings deeply with everyone. The story is essentially about facing your fears and demons, or facing the consequences."

The SFA Theatre Arts Division presents Rona Munro's The Maiden Stone, directed by Judy Braha, Wednesday, February 24, through Saturday, February 27, at 8 p.m. at the Boston University Theatre, Studio 210. Admission is $8, $5 for students and senior citizens, and free for Boston University students, faculty, and staff. For tickets and information, call 266-0800.

SFA silent auction

Putting the fun back in fundraising

By J. Nicole Long

Painters in the graduate program at the School for the Arts were listening to music and dancing in a studio recently when someone made a joke -- to raise money and produce a catalogue of their work, they should hold a talent show. The SFA budget allots money for an annual brochure, but this year the artists wanted something more substantial. What started as humor became hard work.

"It was one of those nights when everybody was throwing out ideas. They were brewing in the air," says painter Niv Mor (SFA'00). "I can't remember who thought of selling our paintings first, but we all agreed."

Within days the students set up a meeting with Alston Purvis, director ad interim of SFA,

who supported them. The idea evolved into a silent auction, which was held on February 12 in the lobby of SFA. The sale of the paintings raised $2,425, and paintings that were not sold will remain on display and for sale through Friday, February 19.

"When we met with Alston, we all expected to be told no," says Dana Clancy (SFA'00), one of the auction organizers. "His enthusiasm helped us believe we could do it, even though the time frame is tight."

In April, to mark the end of their tenure at BU, graduate students of painting, sculpture, and graphic design will have their final exhibitions in the 808 Gallery. For the first time, because of the students' initiative and help from BU arts administrators, a glossy color catalogue featuring student work will accompany the shows. "When you have a whole university as a resource," says co-organizer Roxana Alger (SFA'00), "it seems silly not to take advantage of it." The resources she refers to include faculty, staff, students, and space that belongs to the University. SFA Professor John Walker, for example, donated his print Pra Han, an image he made while he was in Australia.

John Stomberg, director of the Boston University Art Gallery, sponsored the auction and helped with the logistics of the silent bidding. In addition to Clancy, Nicole D'Agata (SFA'00), Beth Bernhardt (SFA'00), Joseph Wardwell (SFA'00), Bret Baker (SFA'00), and David Giasante (SFA'00), who was also responsible for the lighting, framed and hung the show, and are among 22 painters and sculptors who donated artwork.

A jazz band from the SFA music division, the Dan White Combo, played for the duration of the show and will be paid with prints and drawings. For the approximately 100 people who attended, the music set a tone of celebration. Refreshments, including wine, cheese and crackers, and a vegetable tray were amenities that Clancy says she might have overlooked if Katherine French, SFA coordinator of exhibitions and special projects and curator of the Sherman Gallery, hadn't suggested obtaining permission to serve alcohol.

Among the potential buyers were BU faculty, staff, and students, visitors, and a well-known local artist and personality who dedicates himself to public art projects, Sidewalk Sam -- or Robert Guillemin (SFA'74). "BU has always produced good draftsmen, and that is clear in the work shown here," says Guillemin. "Artists once painted in the dark, but the work of these students demonstrates a sense of connectedness to society. I'm going to have to bid."

Although the evening was successful, Clancy says the fundraising is not over. "For a 16-page catalogue, I received a quote of $3,000 from one company," she says. "But we'd like to be able to afford additional pages, which would allow us to include more examples of our work."

"We currently have $2,500 in the fund, which guarantees that we will be able to proceed," says Clancy. "Putting the show together, inviting people from inside and outide of the BU community, and working with the administrators of SFA has been very hectic, but enjoyable. We've achieved our goal of raising money for a catalogue that we'll be able to send out, to have as a record, and for future students to use as a reference of the kind of work done here. We're pushing for more funding because some of the first year students donated paintings to help us out, and we'd like to leave some money for them. We hope that this will become a tradition."

For more information, call 617-353-3371.