Spectrum Theatre’s fall production addresses grief, tragedy


Katherine Pach/The Daily Northwestern

Communication sophomore Tatiana Dalton plays the role of Simone in “Alchemy of Desire/Dead-Man’s Blues.” The show, presented by Spectrum Theatre Company, opens Oct. 22 at the Shanley Pavilion.

Amanda Svachula, Assistant A&E Editor


Northwestern’s Spectrum Theatre Company will present “Alchemy of Desire/Dead-Man’s Blues” this weekend, the group’s first show since it faced fines for space violations last year.

The show will run Thursday through Saturday at Northwestern’s Shanley Pavilion and will explore themes of tragedy and grief in a magical-realist setting. The theater company aims to address social and political issues on campus in their productions.

“It has an important message for the Northwestern community,” producer and Communication junior Bailey LePage said. “As a community we have gone through some rough things in the past quarters, and I think we need to be more active in addressing them.”

This is the first mainstage show Spectrum Theatre Company will produce since last year, when they faced $12,000 in fines from the Office of Student Conduct. The company was charged for space violations during its production of “Merrily We Roll Along,” including for some of the cost of a ripped projector screen in McCormick Auditorium. Money to pay the fines was raised by other student groups, friends, family and the greater NU community.

“Alchemy of Desire/Dead-Man’s Blues” follows the main character Simone, who must deal with the tragedy of losing her husband in war. As Simone closes herself off from her town, a group of women try to help her regain hope.

To set the stage for the show and encourage discussion, the company held a panel entitled “Seeking Help: Grief, Tragedy, and the Power of Community” on Friday. Four student speakers and an administrator talked about grief and mental health on campus.

“The panel was a precursor to the show,” said Matt Silverman, executive director of Spectrum’s Board and a Medill senior. “We create theater that addresses relevant socio-political issues and the primary issue we are exploring here is tragedy, grief and overcoming that as a community.”

Set in the present-day, the show takes place in a rundown southern town. The swampy world is filled with magical and realistic elements.

“It’s very earthy, rundown, rustic, and has a sense of timelessness to it, as dates and wars are not named,” LePage said. “We’re trying to make a very immersive world to bring people into this magical realist environment.”

To avoid fines during the creation of the show’s set, the Spectrum Board has instituted new procedures for “Alchemy of Desire/Dead-Man’s Blues.”

Along with added paperwork to avoid problems, a board member acts as an internal risk-manager and educates the production team on Norris safety guidelines, Silverman said.

These procedures have allowed Spectrum to maintain a closer working relationship with the cast and production team of “Alchemy of Desire/Dead-Man’s Blues,” LePage said.

“In the past, productions have been very independent,” LePage said. “The board has been more there for moral support or mentorship when asked. This year it’s trying to be a little more active in its role.”

Besides visual creations in “Alchemy of Desire/Dead-Man’s Blues,” sound plays an important role. Although the songs in the production do not drive the entire show as in a musical, they are interwoven with the plot in various places. The six cast members sing a cappella and create percussion sounds with their bodies.

“The show feels like a poem or a song,” said Communication sophomore Tatiana Dalton, who plays Simone in the show. “The world is partially created by sound made by the actors in transitions from scene to scene. This adds to the sense that this world is full of magic spirits that are simultaneously human.”

The show’s characters speak in a way that almost sounds like slam poetry, LePage said. Simone speaks mostly in monologues. For Dalton, the biggest challenge about playing Simone is portraying the character’s deep grief.

“I haven’t touched this deep and all-consuming grief before as an actor,” she said. “That is quite a challenge and something I am trying to honor.”

“Alchemy of Desire/Dead-Man’s Blues” brings grief and tragedy to the center of audience’s thoughts without directly addressing specific NU issues, LePage said.

“Theater has a funny way of sticking with people,” LePage said. “We can transpose our own experiences on the story and discuss things in the context of the story, rather than in our own personal context, which may be too difficult.”

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Twitter: @amandasvachula