Use imagination, travel through time

“Post-modern” story touches on diversity and inclusivity


Photo by Elizabeth Jackson

PAINTING THE PICTURE: Senior Aaron Suggs performs as Allooloo, the lead character, in a practice before “Skyline’s” opening night Friday. © 2014 Elizabeth Jackson, The Spectator

It began in Central Park. In 2001 Theatre professor Reed Brown camped for 36 hours in the park waiting for tickets to see Meryl Streep in “Seagulls.”

Two weeks later, 9/11 happened.

“Suddenly theatre seemed rather insignificant,” Reed said. “A lot of things did because there was this huge event.”

A year later Brown was reading an article in the New York Times about Australian aborigines who came to Ground Zero to bless the scarred area.

The idea of Australian natives traveling across the world in the name of peace struck a chord with Brown, and so began the 10-year journey of the production “Skyline.”

On Friday the play, written and direction by Brown, will be performed for the first time on the UW-Eau Claire stage.

The story intertwines history and imagination as it travels across time periods to explore the connections between people throughout the world.

Brown said the play does not follow the typical progression beginning, middle, end.

“It’s a very complex little thing we are doing here because it’s not linear,” Brown said. “This is a script that is very post-modern. … It is a collage of seemingly disconnected events and hopefully by the end we have made it seem logical to the audience.”

Transporting through time periods and changing characters creates more work for the actors and actresses, but senior Aaron Suggs, who plays the main character Allooloo, said the cast has worked through the challenges.

“At first it was a bit difficult, but as you start to become invested in the world of the play, it becomes natural,” Suggs said.

At the first dress rehearsal on Monday Sophomore Jake Pritchard, who plays the character Scott, said preparing for the show’s unique progression was different than past shows.

“Nothing about this show is what I’m use to,” Pritchard said. “Just the fact that Reed wrote it and is directing it, that puts a different spin on it.”

But even with the non-traditional approach, he said the cast only had some logistics left to straighten out. The changing time frame was difficult to adjust to, Pritchard said, but it was a welcome challenge.

“Things have been going on with my (character’s) life that we haven’t been showing the audience,” Pritchard said. “So, I have to get all of that into my head. From one scene to the next I change drastically.”

Change is important to “Skyline.” The play is part of the “A Year of Inclusivity” project, which highlights the contributions of the underrepresented in the programming and curriculum of the Music and Theatre Arts Department. Underrepresented can range from gender, race, culture or sexual orientation for the project.

Brown said in relation to the project, certain characters for “Skyline” were written with specific races in mind. But the lack of diversity in Eau Claire made filling roles more difficult. For one role, Brown had to bring in an actor from Atlanta for an African American character.

“I really wanted it to be very diverse,” Brown said. “I wanted the diversity to be very clear and it was astonishing,” that he was unable to find an actor to fill the role.

According to the UW-Eau Claire 2013-2014 Factbook, the university is currently 90 percent white. Brown said the demographics of Eau Claire are well-known, but he was still surprised at how difficult it was to find an African American male to fill a roll.

But bringing attention to the need for diversity and cultural understanding is important to the play, and Brown said bringing in an outside actor has worked out great for the cast.

It was a 10 year process for Brown to complete the script for “Skyline.” He said he is excited for the show to reach the stage and hopes the audience enjoys the story progression.

“I think the audience is going to tell me what I need to know,” Brown said. “I’m really looking forward to having an audience there.”