It seemed an unlikely success. Fort Collins, despite its healthy theater community, is not known for its diehard Moli/re fans, a point underscored by everyone outside the theater department pronouncing the play’s title wrong (it’s actually skuh-pan).
Further, a six-week run in the middle of the summer, with a sizeable chunk of the town gone, doesn’t seem like a recipe for explosive ticket sales.
But the CSU production of Scapin proved to be a sleeper hit, bringing in steady crowds and earning some stellar word-of-mouth. And now, the summer’s most buzz-worthy production is returning for its second run at the University Center for the Arts.
With shows running Thursday, Friday, Saturday and the final matinee performance on Sunday, students who missed out this summer will have the chance to see the play before a new production starts.
“It’s a whole different constituency,” said Director Walt Jones, of the audiences the second run hopes to pull in. “None of the same faces are around in the summer. We wanted to make sure the crowd coming back would have the opportunity to see it.”
Jones, who not only directs the play but the whole theater program, came out from the University of California to join the faculty last fall, and admits he’s quite smitten with CSU.
“It’s probably the proximity to L.A., but theater students in San Diego are much more concerned with the business aspects of the field,” he said. “Students here come to the theater program for creative nourishment, soul food. It makes the job a blast. After my first day here, I got home and told my wife ‘we’re in the right place.'”
Jones jokingly confesses that Scapin’s initial run was scheduled in the summer to prolong the semester as much as possible. “Yeah, I’ll admit it,” he chuckles, “I just wanted it to last a bit longer.”
The play is an adaptation of the Moli/re original by Andrei Belgrader, Shelly Berc and the late lyricist Rusty Magee, and while scenes are scripted, large portions of each performance are improvised and can vary wildly from night to night.
“There are at least six different adaptations of this play, but I went with Andrei’s because it’s fun and it changes every night,” Jones said. “When directing, I always choose plays that have a reason to be on stage, rather than on TV or film. You can’t do this show anywhere but in theater.”
The unpredictable elements of the play, the improvisation and audience participation, keep everyone alert and involved. Jones says those elements of immediacy and community are what the department is striving for.
“Theater needs to find out what it does better than other mediums. A play like this works with the ideas and experiences each audience member brings in. Everyone sees a different play,” he said.
This madcap approach, of neither audience nor cast knowing what will happen next, is in keeping with the spirit of Moli/re’s original play, The Impostures of Scapin.
But the on-the-spot nature of the humor was initially quite intimidating for some in the cast.
“Some were great right away. Others were good, but frightened. It took a couple shows before they loosened up,” Jones said. “Now, just about everybody improvs at least a line or two every performance.”
One advantage to seeing the second run may be getting to see the actors at the height of their game, after working their ad-lib chops over the summer.
“We did rehearsal and opening night last Wednesday and Thursday, and they were great,” Jones said. “They’re just as fresh and into it now as they were in June.”
Given the erratic nature of the play, it’s inevitable that a few snags would be encountered.
In one scene, an audience member is invited up onstage to swat a cast member, who is tied up in a bag, with a large rubber mallet. This being a play, the idea is that they act like they’re striking them. One night, though, a participant decided to engage in some method acting. “They just started throttling the actor with this hammer,” recalls Jones, “and he had a bag over his head, so he couldn’t see anything. He goes toppling off the stage, and I’m thinking ‘Oh, God, we need to resuscitate him if we’re going to finish the scene.'” The actor was fine, but audience members are now asked to refrain from beating the cast.
The theater department’s mandate this semester is simple: draw more people. To that end, Jones is initiating a few policies that helped his former San Diego theater program flourish. Namely, this means cheaper tickets.
“We need to make people aware that we’re here and get them into the habit of coming to the theater.”
A new package deal available to CSU students aims to lure those return customers. The four for $5 membership plan gives students passes to all four of this term’s main stage shows.
“It’s a great deal. Even if a student with the pass can only attend two shows, they’re still only paying $2.50, instead of the usual $7,” Jones said.
Interested parties should bring their student IDs over to the Theatre Program office at the University Center for the Arts between 8 a.m. and noon on weekdays.
Scapin’s remaining shows are this Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m., with the last show being Sunday at 2:00 p.m. at the UCA (1400 Remington). Tickets are $16 dollars for adults, $14 for seniors and $7 for students, except those clever ones that sign up for the 4 for $5 plan.
“Expect those last few shows to be big,” Jones said. “They [the cast] want to pull out all the stops.”
Stafff writer Ryan Nowell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.