Bates to challenge the senses with multimedia play exploring alien abduction

Poster design by Khi Kim ’16.

An enveloping multimedia stage experience explores the mental state of an alien abductee as Bates presents the play 1000 Airplanes on the Roof  in 7:30 p.m. performances Thursday through Saturday, Oct. 25-27, in Schaeffer Theatre, 305 College St.

The performances are open to the public at no cost. For more information, please call 207-786-8294.

Bates senior Thomas Holmberg of Winnetka, Ill., is the sole performer in this play whose text was written by David Henry Hwang as part of a 1988 collaboration with composer Philip Glass and visual artist Jerome Sirlin. The director of the Bates production, Senior Lecturer in Theater Katalin Vecsey, is using music by faculty composer William Matthews in place of Glass’ score, and images from the current Bates College Museum of Art exhibition Starstruck: The Fine Art of Astrophotography.

“The only thing that is actually coming from the original production is the script,” Vecsey says.

The hourlong play depicts a Kafkaesque character, M, once an untiringly rational person who now has trouble sorting out reality from imagination. In a confused and terrified soliloquy, M explains that he has been recurrently abducted by extraterrestrials, transported to a spaceship hovering above the Earth, and subjected to painful and bizarre experiments.

The Bates production is an innovative collaboration among the departments of music, of theater and dance, and the art museum. “We are trying to transform Schaeffer so it doesn’t feel like a theater when you walk in. It’s going to be a very nontraditional theater production,” says Vecsey.

As Holmberg says, “You walk in, and it’s outer space.”

Manipulated images, distorted vocal treatments and other sound effects, and Matthew’s electronic music will play throughout the production, even greeting the audience as they enter the theater. To visually represent M’s experience of alternate realities, Vecsey selected the astrophotographic images that will be projected in Schaeffer during the performance.

Anthony Shostak, the museum’s education curator, organized Starstruck: The Fine Art of Astrophotography. As Vecsey explains, “Anthony approached me about Starstruck more than a year ago. We were looking to find a way to incorporate students into the exhibition in several departments.”

Bill Matthews, Alice Swanson Esty Professor of Music at Bates, composed the music thinking to create a sonic environment that’s “eerie, spooky, otherworldly.” The score is for exclusively electronic sounds. Glass’ music “has a very particular sound and is loud, and I think Kati wanted something different,” he says.

Originally planned as a small production in the Olin Arts Center, 1000 Airplanes on the Roof was moved to Schaeffer as part of events surrounding the Oct. 26 inauguration of Bates President Clayton Spencer, as well as Homecoming Weekend.

A question-and-answer period will follow each performance, including Stephanie Kelley-Romano, an associate professor of rhetoric who is an authority in the rhetoric of alien abduction.

“Whether the audience should accept M’s story or write him off as psychotic is for the audience to decide,” says Vecsey. “I don’t want to influence the audience. They can decide for themselves what to believe when they leave the theater and think about it.”

A history major, Holmberg is performing this piece as part of an independent study class in theater.

The original 1000 Airplanes on the Roof premiered in an aircraft hangar in Austria, conducted by Michael Riesman and featuring vocals by Linda Ronstadt.

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