Students prepare for the upcoming show “A Brief History of The Earth and Everything In It.”  Photo by Autumn Walter.

A Quick Look into the URI Theater Department’s Upcoming Season

With the start of the upcoming fall theatre season, audiences will be transported to an elementary school with singing third graders and the fantasy world of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) featuring exciting technical elements. 

The first mainstage show of the University of Rhode Island’s fall 2019 theatre season is “A Brief History of The Earth and Everything In It……” This musical is written by URI Instructor Dave Rabinow about third graders rebelling against their conservative fundamentalist principal by putting on their own show, and is being performed in conjunction with this year’s Honors Colloquium entitled Religion in America. 

“This play asks us what is the role of religion in America and if that role is a force for good or not,” Director Rachel Walshe said. “It takes a more philosophical approach.”

The fundamentalist principal, Dr. Marsden, will be played by senior Lily Ferreira, who has her own complicated history with Catholicism.

“I think this show is definitely a way of bringing to light problems that we have in religion, but in a comedic way that way people can laugh at it,” Ferreira said.

While the show is a comedy, the actors and Walshe have no intentions to polarize or offend. Walshe advised her students, “we want to have fun, not make fun.”

Rabinow, who has sat in on rehearsals and spoken to Walshe and the actors, also doesn’t want the third graders to come off as cartoonish or like characictures. 

“They’re third graders because a child is a much more direct, clear, unedited, passionate version of yourself,” Walshe said. “We’ve been thinking of it less like ‘let’s pretend to be kids’ and more like ‘what’s the version of me that cares about this thing.’”

Junior Conor Delaney, who will be playing Derek in the production, describes his character as a “leader among his peers,” has enjoyed the challenge and opportunity of playing a third grader. 

“You’re able to find a seriousness in what these kids are about,” Delaney said about diving into the third grade characters. He hopes that audiences will find the same thing among all the comedy and singing. 

“Get a conversation started,” he advised to future audiences. “There’s not one absolute right. There is room to hear someone else’s opinion even if you disagree.”

The second play of the season, “She Kills Monsters” focuses on Agnes, a young woman grieving the loss of her younger sister and trying to find a connection to her through the world of D&D, a popular fantasy role-playing game. 

Madison Cook-Hines, a URI alumna, will be directing the production as a guest artist. She recalls the show being something the students pushed hard for last year when play selection came around. 

“I love how spectacle heavy it is, partially because it gives the design students a chance to really show their stuff,” Cook-Hines said of the play. “It also speaks in a marvelously adolescent voice without diminishing teenagers.”

One of these students is Ferreira who, along with acting in the first mainstage production, is prop master for “She Kills Monsters,” a position she earned after having been assistant prop master on six productions since her sophomore year.

“Props designing ‘She Kills Monsters’ is definitely difficult, a lot of it is research,” Ferreira said. For her, that involves reading up on D&D. “Accuracy is key.”

One student partaking in the production who is very familiar with this role-playing game is sophomore Owen Gilmartin, who is one of three puppeteers for the show. 

What initially drew him to the show was the incorporation of D&D, a game he’s been playing for a few years now. As a puppeteer, he will have the opportunity to help bring characters to life for audience members like him or others who have never played the game.

“It’s going to be hard to communicate exactly what these creatures and characters are and finding a way to convey that most effectively,” Gilmartin said. “I’m excited to learn as we go.” 

Cook-Hines wants audiences to know that you don’t have to be a “nerd” or an “outsider” like the characters in the play. 

“I really do think the epic fantasy drama on stage is something people will want to see,” Cook-Hines said. “There’s something wonderful about trying to reconcile the very normal world that we live in with an extraordinary world that is built by the people who live in it.”

Performances of “A Brief History Of The Earth And Everything In It..…” will begin in mid-October in J-Studio. “She Kills Monsters” opens in the Robert E. Will Theatre in mid-November.