All the world’s fitting onto the stage for a School of the Arts thesis production of “The Spoon River Anthology” that includes over 100 actors. Conceived and directed by Jimmy Maize, SoA ’12, the play is a new adaptation of Edgar Lee Masters’s 1915 collection of poems about the residents of the fictional town Spoon River, Ill.
Maize’s stage adaptation reconfigures a selection of the poems—“epitaphs” delivered by dead Spoon River citizens that explore themes including mortality and memory—into a three-act dramatic structure that includes approximately 120 of the poems in Masters’ collection. The play is comprised of thematically-grouped monologues in story vignettes.
“The only way that I could accomplish the weight of the narrative was to cast 100 people,” he said. Comprised of graduate students in the School of the Arts and other actors in New York City, Maize did not take the traditional route and double-cast the show.
“There is a new person with every new character and every new story. You never hear the same voice twice,” he said.
Although Masters’s collection of poems has been adapted for the stage before with a stint on Broadway in ’60s, Maize’s adaptation is brand new.
“Certainly, I’ve never heard of a 100-person adaptation of it,” he said. The production will also feature an original score by Eli Zoller, and original choreography by Jon Cooper and Marine Sialelli, SoA ’12.
“What I did was I built the structure of the play so that Act I was really about the Spoon River, Illinois, 1915 nitty-gritty experience,” Maize said. Part of this experience centers on working-class life. While Act II features a more modern aesthetic, Maize combined the forms in Act III in order to draw parallels between the different times. Zoller matched this vision with the score, which includes a mix of electronic music with violins and cellos in Act III.
Six actors helped Maize develop the piece and have been given the title of “co-creator,” in addition to their roles as actors in the show, according to producer Matthew Kagen, SoA ’13.
“The material is so rich,” actor and co-creator Franny Silverman wrote in an email. “I love that this production gives a unique and individual voice to 100 of the named characters in Edgar Lee Masters’s text, really highlighting the humanity by asking the question of what—or who—makes a town ... and how do they intersect to create a community of people with a collective history.”
“The writing is beautiful,” Maize said of Masters’s book of poetry. “It’s about universalities in human nature and life and death.”
Although the book’s 240 poems come from almost as many different Spoon River citizens, Maize knew there was a “beautiful story being told,” whether or not it was part of a linear narrative.
“I read all 240 poems together, and I was able to understand what Masters was doing in this work, which was really to capture the fullness of life,” he said. “You really get a breadth of human experience.”
The production will also enjoy an extended run at The Invisible Dog Art Center in Brooklyn. “It’s sort of unconventional for a thesis to have an extension, but we figured with a hundred actors we were going to have a high demand,” Maize said.
Performances are April 18-21 at 8 p.m. in Riverside Church, and April 24-28 at 8 p.m. at The Invisible Dog (51 Bergen Street, Brooklyn).