Portable stage takes theatre into the community

The Compleat Work of Sam Nwport (Abridged) -- student builds 'pageant wagon' to present Shakespeare parody

April 28, 2010

Most people talk about "going to the theatre," but a Knox College student wants to bring theatre to the people this spring -- with the construction of a trailer-mounted portable stage.

Samantha Newport, a senior theatre major, has spent the academic year on the Knox campus building a "pageant wagon," as they're known in theatre history. In May she will take it across campus and possibly into Galesburg for productions of "The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (abridged)" -- which compresses all of Shakespeare's plays into a two-hour comedy.

Free public performances are 8:30 p.m. on Friday, May 14 and Saturday, May 15, and 2 p.m. on Sunday, May 16, on the south lawn of Old Main. Audience members are encouraged to bring their own seating.

"I started with a six-by-ten-foot base from a grain wagon, donated by a farmer who's a friend of my family -- that saved us several thousand dollars," Newport says. "On top of that base, we built a large box that folds out into seven-by-20-foot performance space."

"Pageant wagons" -- decorated carts that could be hauled about -- originated in the Middle Ages, when they were used by the church to stage 'mystery plays' that portrayed major events in the Christian calendar, and by theatre troupes that used portability to evade ecclesiastical authorities who were opposed to secular theatre, according to associate professor Craig Choma, who teaches set and lighting design and theatre technology at Knox.

"Sam's project started as a one-term independent study," said Choma, Newport's faculty advisor for the project. "She's devoted an incredible amount of work over the past year to the construction, and now to the rehearsal and performance."

Theatre rehearsal"The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (abridged)" was written and premiered in 1987 by The Reduced Shakespeare Company. Newport's production features student actors John Dryden, Shane Donegan (photo, right, in rehearsal) and Keegan Siebken. The parody renders all of Shakespeare's plays through a series of comedy sketches -- from TV shows to sporting events, and disposing of Hamlet in under a minute.

"It's a very funny play," Newport says. "We plan to take it around campus -- it's a great way of taking theatre around." Newport and Choma are researching traffic regulations that govern hauling the wagon on public streets.

Pageant Wagon construction"We can see opportunities for community outreach," Choma said. "There have been site-specific performances before. This is the first time we've had anything like this. It's well built and can withstand the weather."

Newport has done most of the construction herself. Materials were provided by Knox's Richter Memorial Grant program, which supports undergraduate research projects across the curriculum.

Founded in 1837, Knox is a national liberal arts college in Galesburg, Illinois, with students from 47 states and 48 countries. Knox's "Old Main" is a National Historic Landmark and the only building remaining from the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates.

Theatre rehearsal