It was not an ordinary rehearsal.
Instead of watching a director call the shots as performers move in an orderly fashion around the stage, Tattnall Square Center for the Arts was strewn with what appeared to be half-finished Styrofoam feet and PVC tubes. Mercer University students and faculty were cutting holes, hoisting puppets into the air, and strapping each other into safety harnesses, all pre-occupied with their individual tasks.
And then suddenly, the front door opened. The sun streamed in, beckoning the Mercer Players outside for a kind of show they had never done before.
“The Phoenix Project: Renewal” is an original creative experience, and being outdoors isn’t the only facet of the show that is unique. Director Scot Mann, associate professor of theatre in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, has been coordinating his students and community groups to devise a totally collaborative effort.
“The challenge is to get it all to gel together. We are using a group of local puppeteers, Hayiya Dance Theatre, and our own staff like Shelley Kuhen to brainstorm on what will look best. There’s just enough cooks in the kitchen,” Mann joked.
He’s not the only one challenged by the scale of the project.
“Working on these big puppets, trying to move them together as a group, has really challenged my idea of teamwork. You have to be on the same page to literally move one foot in front of the other, let alone make it look graceful,” said student Laura Ashlyn Pridgen.
The cast and crew used Tattnall Square Park as a rehearsal studio, and the eclectic nature of the process confused onlookers, not used to seeing a giant bird doing choreography or pyrotechnics wielded by Mercer students.
There was the occasional screw that got loose and had to be drilled in on the field, so it wasn’t perfect. But for Frani Rollins, assistant professor of theatre, it was pretty close.
“We haven’t had it feel real until today, when you can see the designs breathe fresh air and have the students move them through the sky,” she said with excitement. “There just isn’t a real spectacle like this that you can feel like you’re a part of every day.”
“The Phoenix Project: Renewal” will take place 7:30 p.m. April 24 on Cruz Plaza. The show is free and open to the public.
Come back to The Den before the performance for one more video blog following the Mercer Players as they rally toward technical rehearsals and the final performance.