Stamp of Approval
- By gentleguide
- On Fri 23 Feb 2018
Ever heard of Mauritius? It’s a tiny island country in the middle of the Indian Ocean. The “Blue Mauritius” postage stamp (issued when Mauritius was still a British colony) is one of the world’s oldest and rarest, and worth a fortune. And the play Mauritius (being presented next week by DMACC Ankeny) concerns possession of a valuable stamp collection, and the shifting alliances and choices the desperate characters make to get what they want.
Carl Lindberg is the person in charge of DMACC Ankeny’s theatre department these days, and his priorities for the department are reflective of both the realities of the professional theatre world and the needs and resources of an educational program. “I am actively thinking about plays that might have mainstream appeal,” Carl says. “Not to easily market them (Mauritius is particularly challenging to market—a drama about stamps?!) but because they are plays professional theatre companies in mid- to large-sized markets might choose to produce. So [our shows] should be preparing students for the real, professional world of theatre—as makers of theatre and as patrons.”
Where Should We Go?
In choosing a season (typically a show each for fall, spring, and summer), Lindberg wants DMACC’s lineup to have the kind of variety students will find once they get out of academia. “I also want to give students (again, patrons and producers alike) a well-rounded two years of theatre. I believe Shakespeare is the most widely produced single playwright for live theatre, thus the allowance for one of his plays every year.” (DMACC does a “shortened Shakespeare” production every summer to give exposure and experience to their students.)
“The other two shows hopefully have some stylized differences, i.e. a musical and a contemporary drama. Furthermore, I am trying to consider diversity where possible. I had limited myself to contemporary female playwrights for the Spring 2018 slot. (After all, Limitation is the springboard to creativity. per William Ball.)”
Hence, Lindberg decided upon playwright Theresa Rebeck and her play Mauritius. With tremendous experience in both television (writing for Law and Order and other procedurals and creating the theatre-centric TV guilty pleasure SMASH), and live theatre (on and off-Broadway), and even gaining a Pulitzer Prize nomination for her work, Rebeck is a tremendous voice who specializes in characters who don’t always make the best choices. She says her plays are about “betrayal and treason and poor behavior. A lot of poor behavior.”
Lindberg is enthusiastic about presenting Mauritius and Rebeck’s work. “I love Theresa Rebeck. I think she is an expert at dialogue and plot and writes incredibly complex and recognizable characters. I love that she puts female protagonists into important situations that are about things other than getting the guy. Mauritius is a great example—there’s not a sign of a love story whatsoever.”
“I also find this play incredibly captivating. A drama about stamps doesn’t sound sexy, but the play has real characters who need things to survive on various social strata. There’s an opportunity for our protagonist, Jackie, to make millions of dollars and never have to worry about money ever again. And along the way she encounters some bad people. There’s fighting and cussing and surprises, and a journey from vulnerable to tough enough to survive.”
Lindberg is on his own journey, and not just as a teacher. He’s an active member of the Des Moines theatre community (having just finished a run onstage with Tallgrass Theatre in their production of Stop Kiss.) With experience on stages in Chicago and beyond, it’s important to him to both show his students the practice of being a “working actor”, but also use his skills as a director and teacher as necessary.
“Let me be clear here. I love acting. I love directing too. And teaching. But I’m the type of person who loves to be working on something new and exciting and hands-on as often as possible. So I love all three even more when I get to wear each of the three hats.”
“And I think of them that way. Hats. One for each primary role: actor, director, teacher. And I love baseball hats (ask my wife or look in my closet) and I would never wear more than one at a time, except when necessary (which obviously happens when directing plays at DMACC). I love investing in the aspect in front of me: the character and how they fit into the story as an actor; keeping the story clear and interesting for the audience as a director; or helping a student see the value of empathy, community, and failure as an educator.”
Taking a Spin
Lindberg gets to translate his personal experience and knowledge into understanding for his college students, and gets to watch how they process and discover those moments of life and theatre for themselves. Bringing characters and situations to the stage is a complex and wondrous challenge for any actor/teacher/director.
“Obviously I am trying to help each actor to truthful behavior and clear and interesting storytelling in different ways, finding what will hopefully work best for each of them individually. Some things I am encouraging for all of them is to trust themselves, memorize quickly, and trust the words. Rebeck has given us very three-dimensional characters with her dialogue.”
“Particularly since I simply don’t have enough time to help each actor with every layer, I have to instill the courage to create in them early. Here at DMACC we’ve begun using the term ‘Cartwheel!’ The first show I directed here had a lot of young actors asking me if it would be okay if they tried this or that. So, after a couple of those questions I halted rehearsal and said to the group, ‘Listen. If you have an idea, try it. If you feel like cartwheeling on stage, cartwheel.’ There was more to it... but that’s the short version. So any time anyone would ask me what I thought they should do, or if it would be okay to try etc. etc., I would simply reply, ‘Cartwheel.’ And nothing more.”
The final result of Lindberg’s efforts, and the hard work of his young and enthusiastic cast, will hopefully lead to a successful production of Mauritius. And Lindberg believes it’s a show that everyone can find a way to connect with the characters and situations portrayed.
Sharing the Journey
You know what they say about stamps; it’s the errors that makes them valuable. That’s kind of my theory on people. -from Mauritius, by Theresa Rebeck.
“Look, Mauritius isn’t super deep,” says Lindberg. “It does highlight a female protagonist who is broke and is rolling with the punches, trying to find a way out of relative poverty. I feel like it’s a character college students can relate to. The people [in Mauritius] come from backgrounds and environments that limit some of their choices to vulgarity and violence. The play is cool and funny, but it dosn’t directly highlight any social injustice. It does portray real characters that are underrepresented in the greater theatrical canon.”
“What the play hopefully will do (like hopefully most plays) is put people who feel fundamentally different from those they’re in the room with in a position to recognize that they are part of a community somehow. Following the same story, laughing at a couple of the same jokes, and rooting for this girl, Jackie, who just wants something better for herself.”
“I hope our audiences walk away saying, ‘Wow, that was cool.’ I want them to have fun and think that theatre is not boring. Maybe they also see themselves in Jackie, or Jackie in a friend or peer who is having a rough day.”
And hey, if you’re having a rough day, here’s some good news. DMACC Ankeny’s production of Mauritius begins March 2 with performances through March 10, and they’re all FREE (but reservations are highly recommended!) Email firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve seats. Mauritius is rated R for language, and will be performed at the Black Box Theatre in Building 5 near the center of the DMACC Ankeny campus.