If you’ve never heard of “The Public” before, you’re not alone. The surrealist nature of the play has made it an obscure one, outside of typical drama circles, and the story behind it is as dramatic as the plot itself. The playwright, Frederico Garcia Lorca, was assassinated by the Spanish government before the script was fully complete. The only reason the UP Theater department can put the show on is because Lorca gave all his important documents and papers to a friend for safekeeping, before he was killed. “The Public'” was among these documents.
“It's kind of this thrown together draft, so it's not as finished as a lot of plays maybe would be,” Madison Bible, a junior theater minor who plays the character of the Magician, said. “ A lot of the scenes are very fragmented and it’s also very surrealist so I think even if it had been finished it would be confusing. There’s a lot of dreamlike elements to it.”
The play is a meta-theatrical performance, meaning the play is about theater itself. In the original Spanish, the title of the play is “El Público,” which translates to “The Public” as well as “The Audience.” In that sense, the play is also about the people watching as much as those performing.
“The thing that I have been getting out of ‘The Public’ is this idea of theater as a mirror of society,” said Logan Rideour-Starnes, MFA candidate and director of the play. “And how we can use theater as a tool for community in multiple different ways. I'm very interested in theater that has some sort of audience connection, but also a way that the audience can look at themselves as well, or at least the world around them.”
The play was heralded as being “impossible” at the time of its publishing due to technological limitations like instantaneous costume changes and the incorporation of prerecorded scenes.
“When I was choosing ‘The Public’ I was like yeah we could totally do these things now, because they're not impossible for us,” Rideour-Starnes said. “And then of course, now we're on Zoom and we have to find another way to do an impossible play in a nearly impossible format.”
The new platform of Zoom theater enabled the cast and crew to achieve the more fantastical aspects of the play, as well as include some innovations of their own. Some of the costumes incorporate green screen technology, giving them a modern styling.
“There are these costume changes which we're able to do now over Zoom because we can film some things, and do some things live, and turn off our cameras and stuff,” Hannah Kelly, a sophomore theater production major, said.
Another major theme of the production is the metaphorical masks that people wear to hide themselves in society. The play’s Instagram page has been encouraging audience members to wear masks of their own when they watch the play even virtually.
“It's a lot about masks and our perception of the public or the way that society says ‘you must be XYZ in order to be the default’. This asks well, who really is XYZ because we have all these masks and all these costumes that we put on,” Rideour Starnes explained.
“Since a lot of it has to do with identity, and your expression of your real identity, we want people to just kind of ponder who they are and the masks that they wear,” Bible said. “Just think about living more authentically, and not the way others want them to live, but how they want to live.”
“The Public” will be streamed on March 12 and 13 at 7:30 p.m. on UP Theater’s Facebook page.
Will Mulligan is a reporter with The Beacon. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.