‘Founding’ makes history in GV Theater

The final show of “Founding,” a play written and directed by Grand Valley State University students, dropped the last curtain of very well-received production run on Saturday night at Louis Armstrong Theater.

Jack Lane, the box office manager for the theater said numbers of patrons during the productions length had remained at an average of around 150 per night.

“Well the theater can hold about 480 people,” he said. “On opening night we filled about three quarters of the seats.”

Turnout for Saturday’s closing performance were predictably more modest, hovering around 100.

“New plays are always a challenge trying to fill seats,” Lane said referencing the success of previous productions “Appalachian Spring” and “As You Like It.” “I think the success of this play is a real reflection on the work the students have put into it.”

While GVSU continues to celebrate its 50th anniversary with the remainder of its Fall Arts Celebration, “Founding” has set a benchmark in the growth and history of theater at GVSU as the first ever “all student” main stage show.

If the production had to describe itself in one defining word, it would almost certainly be “experience.” As cast and crew struggled with the mixed and removed ideas of telling a university’s story in a theater, it clearly became less an abstraction of process and more an entanglement with trying to extract the distinct nature of student-oriented college culture.

From interpreting the heady and inexplicable emotion of the JFK assassination to conveying the modern day complexities of student lives at Grand Valley, the writers and directors had lots of unique history to burn through. And while the idea of telling a story by having characters explain the same story is not an unfamiliar tool in contemporary theater, it made “Founding” appealing through the use of backhanded humor and classic student stereotypes.

It was a production full of caricatures including boozing beneficiaries, hippies in a cornfield and melancholy professors. Dry wit littered the dialogue and propagated several fits of laughter from the crowd.

By run’s end on Saturday, this cast and crew had found a well-worn rhythm to their lines and mannerisms, which translated into a successful, confident final performance, something these students won’t easily forget.

“I’m very proud of it,” said co-director Arielle Leverett. “Everyone has grown through the production, it’s a very different show from what it was opening night and I’m very happy.”

Leverett said the run had found itself taking shape around many of the cast members finding their own take on the characters without the guidance of the directors.

“I’m already nostalgic,” said Sophie Ni who played the role of Mimi, a capricious yet timid theater lover. “We (the cast), like any show, went through a period of time where we were like, ‘Oh my goodness, are we really going to do this? Is it going to be any good?’ and having just completed the final show it really feels … euphoric.”

Professor Frank Boring, who played several characters including former university President Arend Lubbers, said that judgments can be made off of one single performance.

“My background is in the theater so every show is different,” he said. “One night nobody laughs at a line you think they’re going to laugh at and the next night they laugh at it.”

Boring said this production was a real testament to the student’s ability to write, direct and act in a full-scale theater operation.

“The experiment was, can students really do this, and perform in the main stage,” he said. “Their (students’) enthusiasm really inspired those of us who were asked to play older characters to do better.”

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