The UFV theatre season starts November 10 with advanced showings of the first production, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. This play was first written and performed in 1962, but its history goes all the way back to Ancient Rome. Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart took three of the plays from the 3rd century b.c.e. Roman comedian Plautus, mashed them together and got Stephen Sondheim to help them with music and lyrics (Sondhiem is probably best known to you for his work on the lyrics of West Side Story). According to Ian Fenwick, UFV’s director of A Funny Thing and last years A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Plautus has had a huge impact on modern comedy, especially sitcom.
In order to get a better idea of the Roman influences on this play, Fenwick did research in Europe, developing a colour palette and architectural designs from original Roman artefacts and buildings.
However, the music and style of the play is modern, despite the influence of Ancient Rome. The result is, as Fenwick says, “a combination of ancient and Broadway, an interesting mix.”
In outlining the process that took place in making this play, Fenwick told me that musicals have three things going at one time: acting, learning music (solos, duets and such) and dancing. It is a complex process that has been going on since rehearsals started last summer.
The plot of the play revolves around the slave Pseudolus and his young master, Hero. Hero has fallen in love with one of the ladies from the house of ill repute next door and Pseudolus must help his master win her in order to win his own freedom.
Fenwick told me that one of the hardest and funniest scenes to rehearse was the chase scene in the second act. The timing is very complicated, with people running on and off the stage from various entrances. Hilarity would ensue during rehearsals when actors would either come in to early, too late or not at all.
Besides this, though, the men on the cast had to sacrifice in order to really get into their parts. By this, I mean that all of the men had to shave their legs. Fenwick told me that many of the men wore shorts during rehearsals and that they would only shave the exposed parts, resulting in part hairy, part bald legs.
The courtesan dance was also a lot of fun to rehearse.
All in all, Fenwick said that everyone had a really good time making this play. “Everyone looks forward to doing it and has had a good time.”
That isn’t to say there weren’t obstacles to overcome, though. Since UFV doesn’t have a music program, they had to hire a five piece band to play the music.
In the end, though, Fenwick said that “the students are really talented, there is a high level of quality” and he hopes that UFV students will come out to “take a look and see what the UFV theatre department is all about.
A Funny Thing officially opens on Friday, November 12, at 7:30p.m., but there will be two advance, discount performances on the 10th and 11th, and the play runs until the 28th. Tickets run between $10 and $20, and the performance will take place at the UFV theatre on the Chilliwack campus at the intersection of Yale and Airport roads.
For information and reservations call: 604-795-2814 or Email: Theatre@ufv.ca. Also, visit the theatre department website for further information on all aspects of the theatre departments program and season: www.ufv.ca/theatre