UMKC Theatre Presents Classic Adult Fairy Tale ‘The King Stag’

Commedia dell’Arte, magic on stage and elaborate costumes will enchant audiences.

Nothing beats a fairy tale. Originally, adults were the audience of a fairy tale just as often as children. Literary fairy tales appeared in works intended for adults, but in the 19th and 20th centuries the fairy tale became more associated as a child’s tale. Well, the UMKC Theatre Department plans to remind adults that fantasy and magical lands can still be a very powerful force, even in this 21st century technology-savvy world. Carlo Gozzi’s 18th century story, “The King Stag,” takes all the elements and wraps them up for an audience. There is a powerful magician, a good king, an evil prime minister, heartsick lovers, and silly servants. Directed by Stephanie Roberts and Theodore Swetz, “The King Stag” will preview Oct. 23-28 and run Oct. 29-31 at the Helen F. Spencer Theatre, Olson PAC.

Written in 1762 by Gozzi, “The King Stag” was his most well known attempt at reviving the Renaissance tradition of street theater. The play centers on the life of Deramo, a wise yet lonely King Deramo (Greg Brostrom, a second-year M.F.A. student at UMKC) who — after years of searching for an honest woman to be his queen — discovers true love in the virtuous Angela, daughter of his second minister, Pantalone. However, Deramo’s ambitious prime minister, Tartaglia, (Mark Thomas, a third-year graduate acting student) jealous of the king’s power and lusting after Angela himself, devises plans of his own to usurp both the crown and the king’s newfound love. The truth of Deramo and Angela’s love is put to the test as Tartaglia’s schemes threaten to destroy them and the order of the kingdom.

“Audiences will be enchanted and surprised by our production of ‘The King Stag’; this type of storytelling is just not done very often. Gozzi’s classic play holds magic, danger, farce, spectacle, and true love,” says Roberts, co-director. One of the challenges is to make the magic occur on stage so that it is believable to the audience, Roberts added.

Commedia dell’arte translates to “comedy of art” and is a theatrical style that originated in Italy and was popular in the 16th and 17th centuries. Roberts, whose title is assistant professor of physical theater, teaches commedia dell’arte, clowning, mask and epic storytelling.

“Commedia dell’arte is not done much in the United States. It’s pretty much substantial training for my students. Mask work is a tool for them. They learn certain styles, especially to take on this larger-than-life commedia roles. People think of Shakespeare for some of this comedic styling. No matter what, ‘King Stag’ is a really great opportunity to take on challenging comedy. Every character on stage is like a mask they inhabit. These characters are recognizable. Think about sitcoms or other comedies like ‘The Simpsons’ — the miserly old man, the bumbling good-natured father, the evil prime minister, the saucy servants and the lovers. We recognize that in storytelling, these characters exist,” she says.

Roberts says even though it is not a children’s show, “King Stag” is family friendly and hearkens back to the tales of Brothers Grimm. “There are some dark moments, but also some really moving moments. The reason I perform and direct theater is the chance to bring this to an audience and to ask them to use their imagination. They have to believe in magic and transformation. Animals become people and people to animals. There are wizards. These larger-than-life characters are made without digital technology, but a team of sound and lightening designers, a stage manager, everyone in the room. It takes that leap of imagination to create the impossible and that is what theater is about. We ask the audience to go back to their childhoods and for two hours to be a partner with us in creating that work.”

Costume Designer Aaron Chvatal studies with Lindsey Davis, who heads UMKC’s costume design program. Chavatal’s undergraduate degree comes from Hamline University. “I enjoy costume design and historic fashion. I like to look at how fashion has evolved through the ages and how political and social events – the climate at the time – affects fashion. There are very few places to have the chance to recreate historic fashion and theater is that one constant place. It’s the magic that happens on stage with the community of artists to create a fairy tale. With commedia, costumes can be over the top. The actors have a big space to act in and costumes can help fill that bigger space. Costumes have lots of layers of color, textures and patterns. We are not in the realm of the usual.”

Amy Urbina plays Angela. She’s a third-year M.F.A. actor at UMKC, has played Robin Starveling in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Chloe in “Arcadia,” Frieda in “The Master and Margarita,” Mrs. Joe in “Great Expectations,” and Caliban in “The Tempest.” Urbina has also played Maryamma in “Miss Witherspoon” as part of a co-production with Unicorn Theatre, and will work there again later this year to play Vera in “Distracted,” a co-production with UMKC Theatre. This summer, she played Desdemona in “Othello” for the Independent Shakespeare Company in Los Angeles, where she has also appeared in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and “Macbeth.” A native of Los Angeles, she got her B.A. in theater from California State University, Northridge. She came to Kansas City for the acting program and interviewed with Ted Swertz, UMKC’s Department of Theatre as The Patricia McIlrath Endowed Professor of Theater – Acting. Then she found the extra blessing of Roberts and the work on commedia and clowning.“I play one of the lovers and am the daughter of Pantalone. My character is in love with the king, but she gets mad at him because he interviews all these women and hurts them. Her honesty is what wins his heart.” It’s up to Angela to see through evil magic that has taken her betrothed’s spirit and bounced it around from a stag to a peasant.

“It’s great that UMKC is willing to take a bold chance on this sort of play. Clowning and commedia is not done enough. We have learned a lot through rehearsal and it’s not easy. These are stock characters so there is not a lot of deviation. I am a lover throughout the play so my lens is rose-colored. We have to know the rules and play with a cool mind,” she says. And she hopes the audience really revels in the chance to be a major player. “We need the audience to embrace this with open arms. We are going to take folks away from their day and take them to this fanciful world. It’s a fun ride. With commedia dell’Arte, we make eye contact with the audience and talk to them. It has been hard to rehearse to empty chairs. We talk to the audience, not at the audience. We don’t want people to sit back and enjoy the show, but rather sit forward and be ready to be part of the show. It’s a great challenge, but if done right, there is give and take on a really fun ride.”

“The King Stag” is co-directed by Roberts and Swetz, both recognized for their accomplishments in the theater profession. She has toured nationally and abroad with companies such as Annex, Tears of Joy, Living Voices and Seattle Mime Theatre. She has also taught and directed devised work for the Seattle Repertory Theatre as well Cornish College of the Arts. Ensemble-generated works include “Meanwhile” (UMKC’s Undergraduate Theatre Department), “The Best Story Never Told” (Dell’Arte International and CalArts), “Tallahassee,” (KC Fringe Festival) and “Boom! An International Lost and Found Marching Band” (KC Fringe Festival, and The St. Mane in Lanesboro, MN). Roberts was recently awarded the Charlotte Street Foundation Generative Performing Artist Fellowship and will be showcasing her original work at a presentation this fall. Last year’s Inspiration Award from ArtsKC, resulted in the development of “The Mask of the Broken Heart,” a one-woman mask play which premiered at the Fishtank Performance Studio this summer. She holds a B.F.A. in Acting from Cornish, and an M.F.A. in Ensemble Based Physical Theatre from Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre.

Swetz began his career with the New York Shakespeare Festival, performing at Lincoln Center and the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. He studied with legendary teachers Morris Carnovsky, Phoebe Brand and Stella Adler, all founding members of the Group Theater. For 10 years, as an original member of American Players Theatre, a Tony-nominated classical repertory company founded by Randall Duk Kim, Anne Occhiogrosso and Charles Bright, he acted, taught, directed and served as assistant artistic director. As a principal actor, Swetz has appeared in many regional theaters throughout the country. His work as a director has been varied in style and venue and includes “Mojo,” “Side Man,” “All in the Timing,” “Rabbit Hole” (Unicorn Theatre), “Misalliance and Room Service” (Commonweal Theater Company), “The Comedy of Errors” and “The Shorts Fest” (The Kansas City Rep), “Talley’s Folly” (Kansas City Actors Theater) “Ferdinand the Bull” (Coterie Theater), “The Cripple of Inishmaan” (Nebraska Rep), and “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (Riverside Shakespeare Festival, Iowa City). For 12 years, Swetz was a faculty member in the professional training program at UMKC as well as served as resident artist with the Kansas City Repertory Theatre. He returned to UMKC from Binghamton University where he held the title of Head of Acting and Directing.

For tickets, call the Central Ticket Office at (816) 235-6222 or purchase online at www.umkc.edu/theatre (additional fees apply with online ticket purchase).

Kellie Houx

Kellie Houx is a writer and photographer. A graduate of Park University, she has 20 years of experience as a journalist. As a writer, wife and mom, she values education, arts, family and togetherness.

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