News Column

Community theater group puts on 'Beowulf: The Dragon'

August 14, 2014

By Jocelyn Syrstad, The Leader-Telegram, Eau Claire, Wis.



Aug. 14--Karen Hurd, director of Scene and Hurd Productions, set out on a mission this season to retell some of literature's classic stories.

So far, she's done pieces such as "King Arthur" and "Robin Hood." Now, her theater company is tackling the classic English poem, "Beowulf."

"Beowulf: The Dragon," will run at The State Theatre this weekend, and Hurd and the cast are excited to showcase their epic production.

"I'm a local playwright who's written a lot about local history. But the thing about local history is it didn't draw in big enough audiences," Hurd said. "I decided to tackle some of the classics in an attempt to increase crowds. These are good plays that are done at a high quality. I chose the classics to draw more attention to all of the time and effort we put into our shows. I am so pleased with how those classic plays have turned out. They're very well done."

"Beowulf" sticks true to the script of the poem, but focuses on one portion -- the encounter with the dragon.

In the play -- as is true in the poem -- Beowulf returns to his homeland and becomes king. He rules for 50 years while trying to get some semblance of order in his kingdom.

However, a war breaks out, and the dragon is awoken and is set to wreak havoc on the kingdom. It is Beowulf's duty to battle the dragon before the kingdom is destroyed.

"The play follows the poem, but this part of the poem is fairly short so there was a lot of work that needed to be done to make it a full-length show," Hurd said. "There are six battles that feature major combat, but there was not enough dialogue to carry on a 2 hour, 20 minute show. I had to expound on that. All of the bones of the poem are there, I just had to dress it up and make it live."

One of the most interesting aspect of the show is the six battles that are featured. Michael Van Hemert, the fight choreographer, spent eight weeks working with the cast and crew to design the fight scenes and make sure they were realistic, yet safe.

The crew built a set that has never been seen at The State Theatre to accommodate those huge battles. The crew incorporated the apron of the stage -- which is where the pit orchestra normally sits -- and made that portion of the stage slant down slightly toward the audience to give the crowd a better vantage point.

With the bigger stage, it gave Hurd and Van Hemert the ability to have the entire cast on stage at once for the battle scenes. Hurd said oftentimes a character will get killed on stage, roll off and re-enter the stage as a new character donning a new weapon. The director added that although the goal was to make the battle scenes realistic, the decision was made not to use stage blood to avoid making a mess and creating a gory production.

Van Hemert had his hands full choreographing the six battles, but thanks to the crew's efforts and his directions to the cast, he thinks the finished product is realistic.

"This story is based around epic battles, and those can be difficult to tell well on stage," Van Hemert said. "I wanted to do it in a way that was convincing but still safe. I use elements that work like a dance. I set moves and choreographed steps to make sure the cast does the same thing every time to avoid dangerous situations. I think the final product is going to give the audience some thrills and excitement."

When Hurd set out to draw in larger audiences, her goal was to make classic literature come alive. With the help of an elaborate set, an epic tale and a talented cast and crew, Hurd feels she reached that goal.

Van Hemert added the quality production is worth seeing simply to be reintroduced -- or introduced -- to a classic piece of English literature.

"I think right now our society is losing a lot in appreciation for literature," Van Hemert said. "My mother is an English professor at UW-Eau Claire, so I grew up with these stories and have been surrounded by them

my whole life. These classic stories have value in them. I think when we do plays like this it helps keep our connection alive to these classic works of literature and shows the importance they still have."

Syrstad can be reached at 715-833-9206, 800-236-7077 or jocelyn.syrstad@ecpc.com.

___

(c)2014 the Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire, Wis.)

Visit the Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire, Wis.) at www.leadertelegram.com

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Source: Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire, WI)


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