Factoid:”1931-” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday in the Communication Building’s McLeod Theater. Admission is $2.

By Gus Bode

Adam is angry, fuming, tugging violently at his clothes and screaming mercilessly at the sky. There is no money. There hasn’t been for some time.

And for all his strength and ability, there is no job to be had, either.

So, he lets himself snap.

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“I’ve got a right to work!” he shouts into the still air. “I’ve got a right to live! Whaddeya say?”

With that, everything inside McLeod Theater takes on a kind of deathly silence as Adam (Adam Meyer) shuffles off the stage and director Chris Marcum leaves his perch in the middle of the rows of seats to converse with the stage manager. Things are good now, but the steadily climaxing play will soon take on, with full force, death and depression. Labor riots and social unrest.

And for Marcum, this project is due in a week.

After all, this weekend’s production of Claire and Paul Sifton’s Depression-era drama “1931-” is no standard McLeod piece, and for first-time director Marcum, more is at stake than just one play. Once the ups and downs of performance weekend have long passed, Marcum will still be busy writing papers and compiling data, performing all the tasks that come with heavy academic research.

But wait a minute? Academic research in theater?

“People don’t really associate the arts with research,” said Marcum, who secured a $1,500 Chancellor’s Undergraduate Research Award early last year to help make his show a reality and also traveled last summer to Indiana University to study archives about the play “Cradle Will Rock,” one of his primary inspirations. “This project is to say, ‘Yes, there is a way.'”

What he’s come up with is a show that brings to reality what Marcum could only speak of in abstract terms before:a new theory and style of theater that he calls connectivism in which the best of two worlds – the intimate, method-acting style of the Russian stage producer Stanislavski and the distanced and isolated workings of Bertolt Brecht – are thrown together into one experience shared by both the audience and performers.

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Together, they create what Marcum hopes comes off as a timeless empathy that can connect with audiences of all backgrounds. In addition, they allow Marcum “to test the scientific method through the theater.”

And although Marcum says political pontificating is not the goal of this production, “1931-” could not arrive in a more timely manner. At the depth of the Depression, more than 16 million Americans were unemployed. Similar concerns keep the nation preoccupied in this day of an uncertain economy and uncertain job security. And on the eve of a possible strike by the SIUC Faculty Association, the images of rioting workers and labor unrest couldn’t hit closer to home.

Marcum says much of this simply stands to prove his theory.

“These people want food and beds, but [the SIUC faculty] want something completely different,” Marcum said. “But the workers in ‘1931-‘ and the faculty at SIU are the same. They’re being driven by the same motivations. Certain things do not change. We use the context of this political play to look at the past through the lens of the present, and by seeing similarities, we are able to highlight the universal.”

But what of the story itself? “1931-” centers around Adam, a trucker who, possessed with a confidence that he could perform his job better than his foreman, quits his job in order to make a personal stand. However, times get hard as the nation slumps into recession, and Adam, as able-bodied as anyone, spends the rest of the play searching for work amid the personal embarrassment of being unemployed.

For the cast, which also includes Theater Department veterans such as John Dooley, Nathan Kincaid, Kevin Crispin and Libby McDermott, the play has been a special experience that, despite the added burden of having to return from Christmas Break with all of their lines memorized, has allowed them all to be part of something different.

“When you tackle a play,” said Meyer, a senior in theater whose character serves as the axis of empathy in the show, “you try to take the element or style that is the play. This is one of the first I’ve been a part of where it is constructed around a new theory. This is new.”

And some of what Marcum has added to the show in advancement of his theory brings dramatic new elements to the story, from visuals projected on a scrim behind the stage to segments that take place within the rows of the theater. In addition, Wil Maring and Mark Stoffel of the local bluegrass band Shady Mix will be on hand between scenes to perform songs reminiscent of those in the film “O Brother, Where Art Thou.” Their CDs will be on sale to those attending each performance.

Marcum’s advisers for the project, Anne Fletcher, assistant professor of theater, and Bill Kincaid, associate professor of theater, both say that the experience has given Marcum an excellent sense of directing and has paved the way for future projects of the kind.

“One of the ex-presidents said that no one can understand what it’s like to be president,” Kincaid said. “It’s the same for being a director. This has enabled Chris to get a clearer grasp of the workings of these different styles of theater.”

“We’re trying to make the SIUC community realize that theater and research can exist in the same sentence,” she said. “Chris’ award has helped raise that profile. There are students talking about applying for the same grant. He’s combined really solid research with this.”

Some of the research elements that are required of Marcum are an audience talkback following each performance and, pending approval, a printed survey for those who have seen the show to fill out. Afterward, Marcum will write a paper of his findings to be turned in to the Office of Research and Development.

But for now, the act of preparing the production for the eyes of an audience is enough to keep Marcum and his crew busy. Having had only a short time to rehearse the show, the cast and crew have been working five nights a week in the basement of Morris Library (McLeod Theater has been occupied by the rehearsing cast of next month’s “La Rondine”), and they are just getting the opportunity to have technical rehearsals in McLeod this week.

However, Marcum is confident that the hard work will pay off and will show audiences a kind of theater they have never seen before.

“It’s an internally kinetic experience for the audience,” Marcum said. “There’s something about being a person that we share but can’t quite put our fingers on. This play will hopefully create that empathy that people want, even if they don’t know they want it. They’ll say, ‘Yes! That’s it!'”

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