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DO NOT OPEN this article

Unless you want to read about the play GSU is taking to the world's largest arts festival


April 19, 2016

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    In August, Georgia Southern University’s Devised Theatre class will be taking their performance, DO NOT OPEN!, on the road to Edinburgh, Scotland, for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Those of us staying behind in Statesboro will have the opportunity to see the show on Friday, April 22, at 7:30 p.m. in the Black Box Theatre at the Center for Theatre & Art. 
    It’s a little bit Saturday Night Live, a little bit performance art, with movement,” said Lisa Abbott, Associate Professor of Theatre at Georgia Southern University and director of Devised Theatre’s DO NOT OPEN!
    “Devised theatre is an ensemble-based creative performance,” said Abbott, whose background is rooted in a form of improvisation-based movement work called Viewpoints. “My job is to watch how the show is forming and help give structure and oversight.”
    Rather than working with a published script, Abbott’s 16 students have generated their own play through a process of improvisational acting, creative movement and gesture. While the creation process has been collaborative and unscripted, the class is now in the stages of setting a script for formal performances.  
    “An idea gets pitched, we’ll improvise off of it, and then people will give suggestions about alterations or additions,” Abbott said. 
    The ensemble began with the familiar story of Pandora’s box, wherein a woman is given a mysterious vessel by the gods but is told not to open it. Of course, her curiosity gets the better of her, and when she opens the box, it is revealed that all stripes of evil had been residing within. Thanks to her curiosity and inability to follow directions, those evils have now been unleashed upon the world. 
    Seems straightforward enough, but the Devised Theatre class has taken it one step further. 
    “We are deconstructing Pandora’s box,” Abbott explained. “Exploring it to say, ‘Was it really such a bad thing?’ ” 
    The show is intended for mature audiences, for both language and content-related reasons.
    “We’re exploring hate, fear and anger,” said Abbott, listing a few of the heavy-hitters released from Pandora’s box. “So there’s a section where slurs are being thrown at a person who is Other. Racial, ethnic, religious, mental health and gender bias slurs are included.”
    While potentially controversial, the profanity isn’t casual: Abbott and her students were careful to examine their word choice before inclusion. 
    “We’ve had to really think about whether a particular slur is going to take away from what we’re trying to say,” Abbott said. “We’ve had to decide, ‘Do we want to make people uncomfortable by using this particular word?’ ” 
    Sometimes, the answer to that question was yes. In the slur section of the performance, for example, Abbott’s students are “trying to make a point that hate and fear feed into attack of difference,” she said. 
    Conceptualizing and writing a script from the ground up, it was not only in moments of gravity that Abbott and her students had to consider language and intent. 
    “They are working with satire, and satire is challenging,” Abbott explained. “It’s hard to find the line where you’re making your point through humor without stepping into being crude for the sake of being crude. We are really consciously working on that balance, too.”
    The performance at Georgia Southern will feature 16 students, but only 13 will be traveling with Abbott to Scotland in August. Whether by contributing dialogue, vignettes or choreography to represent particular evils, each involved student has influenced the final product, and adjusting to the smaller cast has proved a challenge. 
    “As we’re working it, we’re looking at who we’re losing and how we can adapt sections of it to go down to the smaller numbers,” she said. 
    The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the largest arts festival in the world, featuring more than 3,000 productions and spanning the month of August. DO NOT OPEN! is scheduled to perform four times at the festival, with an additional outdoor performance on the Royal Mile, which will be abbreviated and censored for the public. 
    Abbott and her students will spend nearly two weeks in Edinburgh, and they’ll be kept busy. They are taking a day trip up into the Highlands, and they’ll participate in a master class in Scottish dance. The class will also attend the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, an international drum and bugle performance at Edinburgh Castle. 
    Despite all this excitement, their primary focus — while not performing themselves, that is — will be attending other performances and pitching their show to potential audience members on the Royal Mile. With so many performances to choose from, audiences at the Festival Fringe have to be recruited. 
    In order to afford the trip, Abbott’s students have been avid fundraisers, tabling at theatrical performances and organizing other efforts, too.
    “They’ve sold chicken and waffles at the Rotunda,” said Abbott. “They designed and sold T-shirts with a tie-dye component, and they did a raffle. They’ve been very actively trying to raise money.” 
    They may be adding summer performances in Savannah and Milledgeville, too. 
    “It’s partially to give them a chance to perform in different venues,” Abbott explained, “but they’re also other fundraising opportunities.”
    The $5-ticket price at the performance Friday, April 22, at the Black Box Theatre will go straight into the Devised Theatre travel fund, which is divided equally amongst the students headed to Scotland. 
    If you’ll be in attendance that night, don’t “be expecting a kitchen sink drama,” said Abbott. “It’s a different style of show.”

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