New Work from Faculty

Sunday, July 6, 2014
New Work from Faculty

Three theater studies faculty members, Ellen Hemphill, Neal Bell, and Torry Bend, premiered new work off campus over the year.

Filmmaker Jim Haverkamp provided the video, former theater studies designer Jan Chambers designed the set, Duke alum Jesse Belsky designed the lighting, and New York composer Allison Leyton-Brown composed the score to tell the story of events that threaten our civilization and species—from the past and the future.Hemphill brought to the stage an original piece in November called The Narrowing. Co-written with frequent collaborator Nor Hall and directed by Hemphill, the play tells four tales of relationships in times of crises throughout history using live action, film, music, and installation.

But even as the story explores destructive human behavior and acts of God that exert tremendous pressure on those who live through them, co-author Nor Hall reminds us, “Wild talents are born out of catastrophe - entrepreneurs, playactors, new schools of philosophy, dance, medicine.”


According to Hemphill, “From the original text and music and video, we’re bringing theater and film together in a way we have never done, creating an environment that serves both art forms.”

A building on Foster Street was transformed to become 539 MUZE to house the multimedia production.

See video sampler to the right.

Just a few weeks later, playwright Bell’s new work was shown in the same space. Professor Jaybird O’Berski took Bell’s adaptation of G. K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday and directed an all-female cast in the very successful production (photo to left).

Then in the spring, another of Bell’s works hit big screens across the nation. His stage play Thérèse Raquin became In Secret, directed by Charlie Stratton and starring Elizabeth Olsen, Tom Felton, and Oscar Isaac.

From the stage play to the film, it took the director more than 15 years to see his project through after he discovered Bell’s play. Bell didn’t actually see the movie until he watched it in a theater in Durham, but he was pleased and gratified (and maybe even a little relieved) with the result.

Read more about the movie and Bell’s thoughts here and here.

Bend opened a show in January, and it was anything but typical of her usual set design work with the department. Her original piece, Love's Infrastructure was a collaboration with local (but nationally known and loved) band Bombadil.

Duke Performances presented the show, calling Bend and Bombadil "two of Durham’s most inventive forces who created an immersive experience on a set designed by Bend, with music performed live by Bombadil, and enlivened with a cast of Bend’s captivating puppets."

Describing her work, Bend says, “We sync live feed video cameras to LCD screens and then perform puppets in front of those LCD screens. So you get a composite image of an LCD screen that has live feed video of the model of the room and you have puppets performing in front of that, and all of that is projected on a screen next to the band. So it becomes a live music video puppet show concert.”

See photo slideshow and video to the right.