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"Picnic" evolves design to honor Inge's original vision

The beautiful scenic design of

The beautiful scenic design of "Picnic." (Northern Review photo/Kasy Long)

It’s Labor Day. The sun is shining. Families are greeting each other for picnics outside in the warm September heat, enjoying each other’s company on this day of honoring hard labor work. Labor Day picnics are often forgotten celebrations, but they are the focus of William Inge’s 1953 play, “Picnic.”

Audiences perhaps most recognize this production from the 1955 film starring Hollywood-heartthrob William Holden and his leading lady, Kim Novak.

However, Ohio Northern University’s Department of Theatre Arts seeks to honor the original work of Inge’s vision as he was writing this heartwarming piece of drama. Cast and crew members of the winter production, “Picnic,” are excited to present their work to the Ohio Northern public inside the Stambaugh Studio Theatre of the Freed Center for the Performing Arts tonight, Feb. 18, at 7:30 p.m. Performances continue tomorrow (Feb. 19) at 7:30 p.m., Feb. 20 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and Feb. 21 at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $5 for ONU students and can be purchased at the Freed Center’s box office, or here.

The play’s action revolves around a Labor Day picnic in the joint backyards of two middle-aged widows, Flo Owens and Helen Potts. Owens lives with her two daughters, Madge and Millie, and a school teacher living at the house as a boarder. Potts lives with her elderly mother.

Into this female atmosphere comes Hal Carter, whose disturbance immediately upsets the group of women. Hal excites Madge, which does not please her mother. This drama revolving around a dangling courtship upsets each character in at least one interesting aspect.

Staying true to Inge’s original text was the important key to creating this show, describes director Brian Sage, Ohio Northern’s assistant professor of theatre.

“I didn’t watch the movie for preparing for this show. I only saw a few clips and pictures. I didn’t want the movie to affect the vision of the show. It’s primarily inspired by Inge’s words. He provided the tools, now we display it for an audience,” he explains.

This process of transforming a written play into a visual production has been a learning process for Sage. He’s learning right along with his students.

“I’m also an actor, so I look at this play from my acting experience. But I can’t ignore the directing side, so I’m always learning,” he adds.

You never stop learning in the theatrical arts profession.

For senior International Theatre Production [ITP] and Creative Writing student, Elizabeth Roth, “Picnic” has been incredibly special, yet challenging, for her role as Lighting Designer. The production completes Roth’s senior capstone project for her ITP major.

“It’s [the production] a very realistic play. It’s outside, being a picnic setting, so I had to figure out a way to use the sun to create a mood, which is in the play. William Inge does a great job of integrating the time of day into his play. So as a designer, I had to figure out a way to work with what he gave us in his script,” she describes.

Prior to the casting of this production, Roth already read the play and had an idea of how she wanted to present the work on the stage.

“The greatest challenge for me as a designer was working with the round of the stage. It’s a small set, but it’s so beautiful,” she adds.

Luckily, Roth hasn’t been alone during the production process. Not only has she been assisted by Sage as the director, but she has also worked with the Freed Center Production Manager Kathe DeVault operating as Sound Designer, Louisiana State University guest Scenic Designer, Ken Ellis, and Ameera Ansari, the Freed Center’s resident costume designer. In addition, senior ITP student Veronica Hrovat is completing her senior capstone project with this production, serving as the stage manager.

Roth could speak for each production designer and say that they enjoy working on the behind-the-scenes craft.

“As for the performance, I’m the invisible player. The audience shouldn’t notice the lighting changes too much, yet still be aware of what this effect does for the tone of the scene,” Roth adds.

As for the cast, Sage explains that they have enjoyed bringing Inge’s work to life in this small setting.

“The entire rehearsal process has been so much fun. This is a great cast, very young students. But also we have a few veteran seniors who really add to the show, as well. It’s always fun to come to rehearsal, which says a lot about the cast we have,” Sage explains.

Cast members include: Anne Cape as Rosemary; Ben Frankart as Alan; Christopher Hartman as Howard; Hallie Heffernan as Madge; Logan Hill as Millie; Alexa Lammers as Christine; Annie Liskow as Flo; Sara Ohm as Mrs. Potts; Emily Schmid as Irma; Eli Underwood as Hal; and, Kyle Wilkerson as Bomber. 

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