Epic ‘Rise’ pushes limits of stylized subject matter

According to playwright Bertolt Brecht, “murderers command too much respect from us.” Embracing this concept, Brecht wrote the play “The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui,” a story that allegorically examines Hitler’s rise to power through the lens of a fictional 1930s Chicago gangster involved in the green-grocery trade. Director and Vassar alumna Ianthe Demos ’00 will stage the production on April 17, 18 and 19 in the Martel Theater. Demos said, “My hope is that audiences will leave thinking about the relationship between violence and power in today’s world.”

Demos, who is the founder and current Artistic Director of New York City-based theater company One Year Lease (OYL), has stripped down the performance to its essence in order to best immerse audiences in the dramatic nature of the show. “His play is one of Brecht’s epic theater pieces, and the vocabulary of movement we’ve been working with can only be described as epic. The highly stylized nature of movement in this piece has been challenging because I’ve never done anything quite like this before as a performer,” wrote Aubrey Hays ’15. “I’m used to a different style of acting and performing; this epic movement has pushed me beyond my performance comfort zone, but the push was very welcomed and much needed.”

Tackling a show as rich as “The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui” certainly posed its challenges. “Bertolt Brecht as a playwright has been known for his ‘epic theater.’ Some of the challenges have come from trying to create this ‘epicness’ under the time constraints for a drama department show. We’ve been able to do it, but logistically it proved difficult at times. I think another challenge was trying to find the middle ground between a bombastic comedy and a horrifying interpretation of Hitler’s rise to power,” wrote stage manager Sarah Freedman. Demos cites another challenge: trying to simplify grand, sweeping images to their core. “The challenge is always to make sure that the ‘less’ you are working on is so distinct, so crystal clear that it can support the story-telling.”

The raw energy of “The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui” is characteristic of Demos’ directorial work. She founded One Year Lease, which promotes physically charged and poetic ensemble-based theater, with fellow alumnae directly after graduating. In founding OYL, Demos and fellow alumnae sought to create as many directing opportunities for themselves as quickly as possible. Demos credits her Vassar experience for her love of theatre and for her artistic success. “[Vassar] was a wonderful time to be both brave and irreverent with the art form,” wrote Demos. “It gave me the space and the tools to keep growing artistically.”

Demos continues to grow as an artist and seeks to remain faithful to her artistic vision. “We share stories with our audience that are at once simple in their starkness and complex in how they move through emotional landscapes and space. In these stripped down worlds we examine the human condition at its core. We deliberately eliminate distraction,” wrote Demos.

Many of the actors appreciate the unique directing style of Ianthe Demos. “Working with Ianthe has been wonderful as she has provided us with a clear vision of what the world of this play is from the very first rehearsal,” wrote Hays. Despite the play’s heavy subject matter and raw physicality, Demos has still managed to maintain an element of lighthearted humor throughout the process.

To keep the experience positive, she focuses on the interchange occurring throughout the play. “The present is amplified and we are asked to exist only in the now,” wrote Demos. “What makes live performance so beautiful is that we practice being present collectively.”

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