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On the Verge goes on the road

Justin+Albinder%2C+Daniel+Wisniewski+and+Hailee+Murphy+rehearse+a+scene+from+%E2%80%9CAll+My+Sons%E2%80%9D+by+Arthur+Miller+in+preparation+for+their+upcoming+performance+with+On+the+Verge.+%28Credit%3A+Emily+Fedor%2FIthaca+Week%29
Justin Albinder, Daniel Wisniewski and Hailee Murphy rehearse a scene from “All My Sons” by Arthur Miller in preparation for their upcoming performance with On the Verge. (Credit: Emily Fedor/Ithaca Week)
By Emily Fedor and Faith Maciolek

Three actors skim through their highlighted scripts as they prepare to perform together for the first time. They laugh and joke as they ease into their scene, but once they find their groove, they quickly transform into the emotional and honest characters of Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons.”

On the Verge has been on the scene performing staged readings since 1993, but it has never performed a shows outside of Ithacauntil now.

The staged reading series is a collaboration between Ithaca College’s theatre and English departments. One of the two pieces the group will perform this semester, “All My Sons,” will be presented at the Handwerker Gallery on Oct. 8. Then on Oct. 18, On the Verge will take the show on the road for the first time to St. Francis College in Brooklyn, New York as part of the Arthur Miller Centennial Conference.

***

It all began when an international student from Norway named Grethe Boe expressed her concern that not enough works by female playwrights were being read in classes. Her voice was heard by Jack Hrkach, a former professor of Ithaca College’s department of theatre art who helped Boe create a staged reading series called Women on the Verge.

That same year, Hrkach approached his friend and fellow professor from the department of English, Claire Gleitman, to join the endeavor. Together, within the first few years of the group’s creation, they realized performing pieces written solely by female playwrights would confine them to specific time periods, as female playwrights weren’t very prominent before the 19th century.

To correlate with their newly broadened artistic vision, the group also adjusted its name.

“We changed the name of our reading series to On the Verge, which we really like actually because [our] plays are on the verge of being fully fledged productions but are not,” said Gleitman. “They’re staged readings.”

Gleitman eventually took on the role of On the Verge’s English sponsor and now selects which plays the group would perform each year.

According to Gleitman, the classes she teaches tend to guide her selection process, as she said she believes it is beneficial for students to see live productions of the plays they read.

“When you take a dramatic literature class, you only have the text of the play, and plays are meant to be performed,” said Gleitman. “Any opportunity students have to see these plays on their feet really enriches our discussionsenriches students’ understanding, appreciation and liking of the texts.”

***

Gleitman, an Arthur Miller expert, was invited to speak at the centennial conference celebrating Miller’s 100th birthday, by the event’s organizer, Stephen Marino over a year ago. And when Marino mentioned he wanted to have some actual performances at the event, Gleitman immediately offered the services of On the Verge.

After her pitch was accepted, Gleitman fit “All My Sons” into the syllabus of her class entitled “Dangerous Women in Dramatic Literature” and announced an open audition to find a cast.

Casts of On the Verge productions include students, professional community and faculty actors like Kathleen Mulligan. Mulligan, who became On the Verge’s theatre sponsor after Hrkach retired, said she was excited to have the opportunity to work on a play written by such a “tremendous writer” as it challenges the actors to bring their best work to the table.

“His plays don’t work well if an actor is kind of performing instead of really living within the situation. But given that, it’s just an actor’s dream,” said Mulligan. “The characters are so well written, so complex, so human. I just love doing his work.”

Along with Mulligan, Daniel Wisniewski, an Ithaca College musical theatre major, landed a role in the production. Wisniewski said he is also enthused to be a part of a reading that gives him a chance to show others the type of education theatre students receive at Ithaca College.

“It would be a good representation of us and put our names out there and show that we are not just a musical theatre school,” said Wisniewski. “We can do straight acting. We have respect for the classics.”

Following the casting, Mulligan and Gleitman went to work tackling the logistics of this special performance, such as transportation and sleeping accommodations for the group.

“It’s a little more complicated than usual because we’re bringing the production down to Brooklyn,” said Mulligan. From deciding what to bring from their already rudimentary set to blocking the show for a stage they have not even seen yet, the group has some decisions to make before making the journey to the Brooklyn.

Gleitman said that she discovered “to her horror” that they were given a two hour timeslot for their three act play. She was able to secure 15 more minutes, but said they may need to perform without an intermission, or cut the reading “down to the bones.”

The group will see the space for the first time the morning of their performance and have a quick rehearsal before they present that afternoon. Gleitman said it’s unpredictable what kind of audience they’ll face, but she’s been told to expect at least 100 people.

“I’m highly optimistic…and I’m also scared. But I think we have a superb cast. I’m really happy with the students and faculty members who have agreed to do it.”

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