Posted November 19, 2014 by
Tags: The Arts Student Activities My Wheaton Campus
Backstage at Arena Theater
The lights are dim, the theater is full, and there’s a buzz of anticipation in the air. We’re standing in a prayer circle backstage on opening night of Wheaton College Arena Theater’s fall 2014 production, Till We Have Faces, and I’m struck by the amount of time that has gone into this show before it even had an audience.
It’s taken hundreds of hours. Memorizing lines, focusing lights, perfecting sound cues, blocking fight scenes, splattering paint, gold-leafing crowns, selling tickets, constructing risers, sewing hems, sawing plywood, applying makeup, crawling around on catwalks, sweeping up dirt, smearing fake blood, pulling curtains.
And it’s taken more than just the volunteer time put in by the crews and actors. Each Arena Theater production is made possible not just by hours in the scene shop or hunched over a sewing machine, but by a rich tapestry of relationship that our ensemble lives and breathes.
We represent every major from physics and ancient languages to studio art and communication, and we come from geographic locations just as diverse. Many of us would never have met one another in the rest of our Wheaton lives, but here in Arena Theater, we come together to form an unlikely but tight-knit tribe.
We play acting games together. We eat together. We take classes together. We fight. We study the Bible. We dance. We give each other gifts. We celebrate traditions instituted by people we’ve never met. We cry. We goof off. Our little theater family has built a life together in this building that provides the soil from which all of our plays spring.
Though the value of our shared way of life is obvious to me, I have to remind myself that the thing that brought me into this community in the first place was a passion for the theater. And in some ways this colossal game of adult dress-up and storytelling seems an exercise in excess. Those who call Arena Theater their home sacrifice massive amounts of our mental, emotional and temporal resources in each play, only to bury it all in one night of deconstruction after the last show. Pieces of the broken-down set will languish in the dumpster out back, costumes will retreat to quiet corners of the costume closet, lights will be reset and the stage manager’s binder closed for good. Why do we exert so much effort for something as ephemeral as a play?
In a culture that prizes efficiency and demands quantifiable results, the work we do in Arena Theater may seem superfluous. And yet I’m reminded of the God who made the brilliant iridescence of a peacock feather when a flat gray one would’ve sufficed; the God who puts on an over-the-top lightshow twice a day to transition between day and night when the simple flip of a switch would do. If we’re to take our cues from the Creator God, it would seem that this life is meant to be much more than utilitarian.
In Arena Theater, this is a truth we’re trying to work out daily.
Whitney Bauck '15 is a senior studying with an emphasis in photography. Photo credits from top: A scene from Arena Theater's production of Till We Have Faces by Whitney Bauck '15; Arena Theater friends celebrating a birthday together with Martinelli's sparkling cider and snacks (Credit: Amy Kuhlman '15); one last scene from Till We Have Faces.