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Theatre to perform ‘Bartleby the Scrivener’

September 13, 2012

Photo of a bottle of ink and brush on parchment with writingLawyers and clowns share the stage in the first play of the Northern Illinois University’s School of Theatre and Dance 2012-2013 production season.

An adaptation of Herman Melville’s short story “Bartleby the Scrivener” runs Thursday, Sept. 27, through Sunday, Sept. 30, and from Thursday, Oct. 4, through Sunday, Oct. 7, in the Stevens Building O’Connell Theatre.

The play centers on the quiet rebellion of a law office scribe named Bartleby. He is hired by a Manhattan lawyer to perform general secretarial tasks. Bartleby soon refuses to do any actual work but never seems to leave the office, which frustrates and confuses the other employees, especially his boss.

Guest director Josh Anderson said the theme of the show is the decisions one makes in his or her life, and ultimately how those decisions affect everyone around you.

Alexander Gelman, director of the School of Theatre and Dance, adapted Melville’s story for the stage. He is the artistic director for the Organic Theater Company, which premiered the play over the summer in Chicago and Naperville.

Intended as a comedy by Melville, Gelman keeps the spirit of the story by referring to it as a clown show.

“Bartleby the Scrivener” poster/Organic Theater Company“Bartleby the Scrivener” came to NIU through a program where students understudy the characters with the Organic over the summer and remount it as the first fall show of the SoTD season. The play was chosen with its suitability for NIU theater students specifically in mind.

Anderson, assistant director for the production over the summer, said the biggest difference between working with the Organic Theater Company and NIU students is the personalities of the actors.

“When you have a completely different cast, the actors will bring their own personalities,” Anderson said. “The personality of the actor always influences the way the character turns out.”

SoTD student Mark Hespen plays one of two clowns in the show, his demonstrating the emotions and thoughts of Bartleby.

The hardest part of the transition between an understudy and a performer was trying not to mimic the original actor’s technique too much, Hespen said. Despite the challenge to bring individuality to the characters, he said, the mentoring provided by the original actors was invaluable.

Hespen said “Bartleby the Scrivener” brings something fresh to the audience; this 90-minute play is shorter than most and has more action.

“Bartleby the Scrivener” will stage in the Stevens Building O’Connell Theatre on the NIU DeKalb campus. Weeknight and Saturday performances begin at 7:30 p.m. with a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. Tickets are $16 for adults, $13 for seniors and $8 for students.

Tickets for “Bartleby the Scrivener” and more information about the production are available online through the School of Theatre and Dance box office, open from noon to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and noon to 2 p.m. Friday, at (815) 753-1600 or by email at [email protected].