AU Communication Department teams up for the production of Smokefall

Students, faculty and guests appeared at the premiere of the play Smokefall, which became a black tie affair event. (Photo: Jamie Sapp)
Students, faculty and guests appeared at the premiere of the play Smokefall, which became a black tie affair event. (Photo: Jamie Sapp)

By Sequoia Sinclair | Staff Writer

The Maxwell Performing Arts Theatre lit up in stars. Literally.

The AU Department of Communication and The Agency hosted a red carpet event on November 10, 2016, in light of Augusta University’s premiere production of Noah Haidle’s play Smokefall.

Students, faculty and members of the Augusta community gathered around to take photos on the red carpet near the theatre’s entrance and were offered hors d’oeuvres and punch. There was even a contest for best dressed, which included first prize winners Amanda Hamilton and Benjamin Wallace.

The cast included Ceara Denise Hester who played Violet; Allison Berres who played Beauty; Rick Davis who played Colonel and Johnny; Neil Davenport who played Daniel and Fetus One; and Benjamin Evans who played Footnote, Fetus Two and Samuel.

Even after the premiere of Smokefall, the cast continued to attract people during November 11-13, 2016.

“Behind-the-scenes” for Smokefall

In an interview with The Bell Ringer following the production, both communication students Allison Berres and Benjamin Evans gave insight on the dynamics and the “behind-the-scenes” of Smokefall.

“It’s not a naturalistic or ‘realistic’ sort of play, it’s very surreal,” Evans said. “So that was difficult to act in at first. Rehearsal was a constant struggle, when trying to find realism with a play that focused on surrealism. There were no issues other than that. This was the best cast I worked with in a long time.”

Berres also spoke about the difficulties behind the scenes.

“I think one of the problems we did have was getting used to the set design,” she said. “We only got it 2 or 3 weeks before. It was a totally different set style from what we were used to. But it was such a good set. Oh, it was beautiful!”

Berres and Evans gave in-depth details about the setting, both agreeing that the stairs in the play was the thing that most people were worried about.

“We heard a lot of stuff about the stairs,” Evans said. “That was the thing people said they were most nervous about.”

To put things into perspective, Berres provided a commentary on the worry people may have had in regards to the stairs.

“They were intently watching,” she said. “Like, ‘Are they going to fall?’”

The set was dominantly built by communication professor Douglas “Doug” Joiner and two students, along with some assistance from Joiner’s Scenography course. The stairs took about a week for completion with the floor and the paint taking the most time.

In addition, Berres and Evans discussed what the hours of labor were like in preparation for the play.

“We were there from 7 a.m. to 8 or 9 p.m., sometimes,” Berres said. “I mean, we’d be there every night, even during the breaks we were there.”

“I think it was a tad bit more work than taking a course with a lab,” Evans added. “It would have easily been a 4 or 5-credit hour course.”

The labor was more intensive during ‘tech week,’ where the cast rehearses the show on stage using all the technical elements. For example, lighting, sound and props. This starts the week before opening day.

The cast, however, did not get their props until three days prior to the show.

With theatre, Evans said there will be obstacles constantly thrown in the way.

“Don’t be surprised,” Berres said in support of Evans’ statement. “There is going to be something that pops up no matter what you do. You just have to roll with it, even on stage.”

Different cast members were able to pull their strengths together during the production of the play.

“What everyone brought to the table was their character,” Evans said. “And that in turn helped shape other people’s character and helped all the characters become three dimensional.”

Evans said admittedly he struggled with Footnote in Act One.

“What helped me was watching their interactions,” Evans said. “I eventually got it based off of that. Acting is reacting.”

It was important that all members of the play put in their best effort through the whole duration of the rehearsal. The experience has also helped them outside the realm of academia.

“If they are theatre students and they’ve come to master balancing theatre with life academia, they are probably very good time-managers,” Evans said. “They know when things need to be done and when they need to be on the back burner.”

He also mentioned the experience also helps with “constructive criticism.”

The meaningful context behind Smokefall

After a detailed, “behind-the-scenes” conversation, Berres and Evans discussed the context of the Smokefall and what it meant to them.

“I think that Smokefall is a play that almost everyone could relate to,” Evans said.

He said that the play focuses on problems within the family.

“There is an idea that you are born with the guilt of the family automatically,” Evans said. “Which is something that we grow into. I think that’s what everyone is able to take from it. What’s new with Smokefall is they accept their lineage. This play is more about accepting.”

Even if someone does not know what is happening in the play, Berres said there is always something one can pick out and relate to.

According to Berres, the feeling that the play gives to people is something to take home with.

The role of The Agency

The role of The Agency in Smokefall was to promote the play at Augusta University. The Agency is a 6-credit hour capstone course in the communication department, where students are placed in real life situations with respect to their desired career field.

Senior communication major Neil Davenport, who played as Daniel and Fetus One in the play, was also part of The Agency. He was the producer of a short documentary about the production of Smokefall.

“This class taught me how to be more of a professional within my industry,” Davenport said.

Senior communication major Laura Bell was the head of social media for The Agency, who provided information about the course’s involvement with Smokefall.

“Our class had two main groups, the TV and Cinema people and Public Relations people,” she said. “We promoted the play and documentary using social media and physical flyers.”

Bell said her and her classmates also observed the filming and editing process in order to get the experience.

“If anyone was ever unsure about something, we knew that we could find someone else in the group and ask for a second opinion,” Bell said.

As The Agency begins 2017, students and professors in the capstone course are striving for a successful, spring semester as they will work on Lucy Prebble’s play, The Effect.

Contact Sequoia Sinclair at sesinclair@augusta.edu.

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