Asking an actor to pretend to be a bed or a tree is one of those seemingly goofy exercises meant to defrost inhibition and spark inventiveness.
In the case of playwright Annie Baker’s “Circle Mirror Transformation,” what seems silly on the surface causes real changes in a class of amateurs, with bittersweet effect.
His 2009 play, presented this weekend by the Baylor Theater, imagines a six-week community theater workshop in the small town of Shirley, Vermont. Classroom instructor Marty believes in theater and its therapeutic value. Her eclectic class, however, isn’t so sure, starting with Marty’s husband, James. There’s Lauren, a 16-year-old girl who wants to become an actress. Theresa, a former actress, comes from New York and tries to recover from a bad relationship there. Schultz, a carpenter, is recovering from a recent divorce after 20 years of marriage.
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So what could go wrong if Marty asked them to pretend to be a baseball glove? Or each other?
For Baylor University graduate student and director Lucas Skjaret, the play is an insightful example of how “every moment helps us become the next person. All these moments are in our circle.
Skjaret said the play is a challenge for actors because it shows characters transformed over time by little things. “It’s a marathon for artists,” he said.
A “small but mighty” high school drama department opened Skjaret’s eyes to what a director does and how storytelling is shaped on stage. He earned degrees in theater and Scandinavian studies at the University of North Dakota, then went to the Ibsen Center for Studies at the University of Oslo. He came to Baylor after 10 years on the Minneapolis theater scene, during which time he founded and directed the Market Garden Theater.
After completing his Masters in Directing, he hopes to teach at the college level.
What audiences will find in “Circle Mirror Transformation,” which opens Thursday in Baylor’s black box, Theater 11, is a piece that touches multiple emotions, from humor to “heartfelt moments and poignant silences,” did he declare.