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‘A real study in period’

Conway resident stars in time-warping comedy

By TAMMY KEITH Senior Writer

This article was published January 19, 2012 at 3:15 a.m.

— The two Hendrix College students performing in the one-act play The Typists are facing a bit of a learning curve.

First of all, they have to learn Brooklyn accents. Secondly, the teenagers have to use strange objects called typewriters.

Kevin Spatz, 19, of Conway, and Megan Barker, 18, of North Little Rock are the only actors in the play, which is free and will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 27 and at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Jan. 28 in Staples Auditorium on the Hendrix campus in Conway.

Written in 1963 by Murray Schisgal, the comedy takes place in an office with the married Paul Cunningham, who’s working and going to law school, and Sylvia Payton, his unmarried supervisor. The couple age as the play goes on - it appears to be one day in the office, but it represents 40 years of their lives.

They work in a duplicating shop copying names out of telephone directories.

It’s a simple set on the stage in Staples Auditorium, two facing desks with typewriters on them.

“The best thing is when [the actors] sat down and they saw the typewriters,” said Ann Muse, director and chair of the theater department. “One of those is my dad’s. I used to play on it all the time.

“They were like, ‘Cool!’ and ... ‘How?’” she said with a laugh, imitating the students trying to figure out how typewriters work. “They were clueless. The look was priceless.”

Muse said working with only two actors has been a good experience.

“It’s really wonderful, because we get to work very intensely and get to spend the time you want with all your actors,” she said.

The students were on stagelast week, before classes started for the semester, getting lessons from Ruthann Browne on how to speak like New Yorkers.

Browne is an adjunct theater instructor at Hendrix and the University of Central Arkansas.

Spatz was working on the pitch of his voice, repeating, “It’s been real rough so far.” Browne said, “You can keep it up there, then come down.” Spatz said earlier in a phone interview that sometimes when he leaves rehearsal, he keeps speaking in the Brooklyn accent.

“I looove doing accents,” Barker said. “I think playing with accents is a ton of fun.” Barker, who is majoring in theater, started acting in eighth grade and performed through her senior year at Little Rock Central High School.

The Typists appealed to her, first of all, because it has a twoperson cast.

“At Central, I was always in casts that there could be 40 or 50 people,” she said. “I was in a couple of one-act things, but I was never able to have a role thatwas terribly challenging. What appealed to me was the fact that [The Typists] was just going to be me and this other person.”

She said her favorite roles have been in A Streetcar Named Desire, where she played Blanche DuBois, and Your Mamma, Too, where she played a woman who was having a nightmare and spoke in seven different accents.

Although she’s just a freshman, Barker has no doubt what she wants to do with her life.

“I would absolutely be thrilled if I made it to Broadway someday,” she said. “That is my life’s dream - to be able to act and make a living on Broadway.”

Spatz, who hasn’t declared a major at Hendrix, said he took drama his senior year at Conway High School just to fill a slot in his class schedule, and he was part of the ensemble in the musical Back to the ’80s.

“I really kind of fell in love with it,” he said of acting. “It’s kind of fun to try to be someone else - to try to understand someone else and walk around in their shoes.”

One example is his character in this play.

“Paul Cunningham, he’s this ambitious young guy,” Spatz said. “He doesn’t have a very good background - his parents fought a lot, and he grew up in a poor section of Brooklyn. He wants to be a hot-shot lawyer like his uncle. He has a lot of responsibilities - he’s trying to go to school, take care of his family and hold down a job. He kind of gets stuck in this office.”

At Hendrix, Spatz has taken a couple of theater classes, appeared in Make Them Laugh and a couple of smaller senior productions and operated the sound board for The Shape of Things.

“I think it’s more something just for fun for me. Megan is definitely pursuing theater more professionally,” he said.

Spatz said The Typists, which will be performed in the round with seats just a few feet from the actors, is “definitely different - definitely a new challenge.”

The intimate set also created a challenge for costume designer Beatrice Vena of Little Rock,a senior theater major.

The play covers 40 years.

“I found out they age 10 years every time they leave the room,” she said. “That’s a lot of fashion to cover.”

Vena said she did an independent study last semester on costume history, “from Ancient Egypt … all the way up to now,” which was invaluable for the play.

Researching fashion through the years, specifically looking at the decades covered during the play, “made it much less stressful,” she said.

The intimate audience arrangement will bring everything under close scrutiny, Vena said.

“The thing is, especially with aging, I think it’s really easy to take a cliché route and make them graying and getting wrinkly, but in a space that small and that intimate - you want it to be seamless,” Vena said. “I want it to be subtle enough that people notice that they’re changing, … but I don’t want it to overwhelm the production. I don’t want them to completely change costumes and come backlooking like a different person, but I think there are ties through the whole play I want to connect. They have a color palette they keep during the show, but maybe the styles changed.”

“For these guys, it’s a real study in period,” Muse said of the play.

Muse added that the performance is rated PG.

Other students involved in the production are Michael Chavez of Texas, stage manager; Torey Hayward of Louisiana, scene and light designer; and Vicki Wood of Texas, lightboard captain.

Reservations are not required, but the approximately 100 seats are available on a firstcome, first-served basis. For more information, contact the box office at (501) 450-1343.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

River Valley Ozark, Pages 54 on 01/19/2012

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