The Heights

Updated: December 19, 2016


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Foothill stages American classic Our Town November 3–20

Students enrolled in Foothill’s Theatre Arts Program will present a fully staged production of Our Town, Thornton Wilder’s American classic that chronicles a lifetime of experiences and emotions throughout one day in the bucolic community of 1901 Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, November 3–20 in the Lohman Theatre at the campus in Los Altos Hills. Foothill College Theatre Arts Instructor Bruce McLeod will direct Foothill's production of Our Town.


Auditions set for September 18–19

All roles are open to students and community actors, and male and female actors of all ages, backgrounds and ethnicities are encouraged to audition. This is a non-equity performance and offers no stipends. McLeod is especially interested in auditioning a multi-ethnic cast of up to 24 women and men. For the critical role of the stage manager, McLeod is seeking a man or woman of any age, who is an outstanding storyteller. Auditions are September 18–19 from 6 to 9 p.m. in the Lohman Theatre (Room 8002). No appointment is necessary and performers need only attend one audition session. Cold readings from the script will be assigned, and actors may prepare an optional two-minute contemporary comic or dramatic monologue. Arrive by 7:30 p.m., be prepared to stay for an hour, and bring a recent head shot and resume.

Purchase a required parking permit for $3; if cast, you will receive a free permit for all rehearsals and performances. Call backs are September 25–26, and rehearsal begins September 27 at 6:30 p.m. Evening rehearsals are Sundays through Thursdays, and a complete rehearsal schedule will be available at auditions. If you have audition questions, e-mail McLeod at mcleodbruce@foothill.edu.


Still universal after nearly 80 years

Wilder thought his play was a failure after Our Town closed after just one week in Boston in 1938. Instead, it ran for more than 10 months on Broadway and won a Pulitzer Prize. Later, the playwright would characterize Our Town as "the life of a village against the life of the stars." After nearly 80 years, the innocence and simplicity of Grover’s Corners still resonates somewhere in all of us. No less an author than Edward Albee called Our Town "probably the finest play ever written by an American."

"You read Our Town in high school. I read it in high school, too. Maybe you found it simplistic, maybe even boring. But here’s the secret: Every play that you read in high school has so much more to offer when performed live on stage," McLeod says. "Novels, where the author can provide descriptions or take the reader into the mind of a character, allow the reader to generate a full picture of an imaginary world. Plays are meant for that to happen live, in front of you, created not by a passive reader but by theatre artists. The act of performance allows the viewer to experience the world and emotions of the play in ways that we cannot do or feel when we read the dialogue alone. Plays that are considered great classics are such because when performed, they have the power to transform us. Plays that have something to say, that are enduring, universal and well-written are what I consider great plays, and Our Town can do that."

McLeod selected Our Town as the college’s fall drama for a variety of reasons, but one was cast size. "This show will give numerous students the opportunity to perform. It features a variety of roles for a variety of actors, including community members," he says. "I enjoy the interaction between our younger college students and community members as we move through the rehearsal process, especially those moments when community members share their experiences, their perspectives and work habits–that interaction is useful for everyone involved on stage and behind the scenes." 

McLeod is looking forward to the challenge of helping Foothill audiences experience similar "a-ha moments" as they watch the play with a lifetime of experiences and perspectives that have changed who they were when they first read the play in high school. "While Our Town is set in a New Hampshire village, at its core the play is about our town, literally, the neighborhoods and cities where we live today and our daily interactions with the people in our village. That’s one of the reasons that I want a large, diverse cast in this show. Our production of Our Town will reflect our community. It should include all ages, ethnicities, genders, religions and backgrounds. I’d love to have a Muslim woman who wears hijab or chador, members of the LGBTQ community, and so many others. Not for the sake of making it a big deal, but to demonstrate on stage that this is who we are. This is our town and the people who live in it with us.

"Our Town is the story about the people around of us and how we’re connected to them,” he says. “We often forget that. We forget how we connect to each other. Through this production, we want to remind audiences that we are all small parts of a larger human experience. I want everyone to leave the theatre appreciating the little things and the connections you make every day in your shared life in your town." 

Ultimately uplifting

McLeod is conducting outreach activities to generate interest in the play among teens and young adults, and that will deliver a multi-generation audience. "One of the reasons that Our Town is read and performed in high school is that the central characters are young," he says. "You see the hope, you sense the excitement of youth and how those young characters see the world as an opportunity. In the second and third acts, you experience the individual’s loss of that hope, as well as the community’s loss. It’s powerful and it’s part of life. The play deftly addresses how we view life and death in a profound and moving way. To be sure, the show is emotional, but it’s not tragic. Ultimately, it’s uplifting and features plenty of humor."

McLeod fully expects the show, which will be in the middle of its run at the time of the November 8 election, to serve as an impetus for broader conversations. "Throughout this national election cycle, we’ve heard rhetoric that’s designed to divide us. But, when the polls close, we need to get back to the business of talking with each other about what’s important to us, to our neighborhoods, to our town."

While fully staged, Foothill’s production of Our Town will honor Wilder’s original intention to spotlight the connections between the characters, rather than opulent staging or costumes. "It’s about the people, not the props," McLeod says. "Each of the few design elements–sets, costumes, lighting and props–must be carefully chosen for its use and impact. You’ll also watch our actors rely on understated performances, including miming with props. In this way, the story and action are the focus. Within that premise will be some theatre magic that will help us to reveal Our Town’s message."

Part of that theatre magic is the opportunity to see how live theatre can affect, even change, people’s lives and emotions. "We create an emotional connection with our audiences," he says. "Our Town is a great play for a reason; it still has something to say. Our theatre students will re-examine that message and use their talents to share that with the audience. We want them to experience the show live, and walk out feeling they experienced a great story."

In addition to giving audiences an uplifting experience, McLeod says that schools like Foothill College have an obligation to the community. "There’s so little money available to the arts as a whole, that the temptation is to present shows that pack in huge audiences and sell out swiftly," he says. "As a theatre arts instructor, part of my obligation is to re-introduce the theatre-going public to great plays like Our Town. As an educator, I have a responsibility to produce shows that engage and connect our community."

Parking lots 1 and 8 provide the best access to the theatre. Patrons must purchase the required campus parking permit for $3. Purchase a permit at dispensers in any student lot; dispensers accept credit/debit cards and one-dollar bills. Foothill College is located off I-280 on El Monte Road in Los Altos Hills. For additional information, visit foothill.edu or call (650) 949-7510.

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