Bringing BOB to Duke: an amazing exchange of energy
Ellen Hemphill, director of Archipelago Theatre and Duke faculty member, has chosen a wide-open comedy for this spring’s mainstage production, BOB: a life in five acts by San Francisco playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb. In Nachtrieb’s words, “BOB chronicles the highly unusual life of Bob and his lifelong quest to become a ‘Great Man. BOB is a comedic exploration of American mythology and values, the treacherous pursuit of happiness, and discovering what it means to be truly great." When Nachtrieb visited campus in March to work with the cast, he listed other epic storytelling influences such as Candide and Peer Gynt as inspirations for this crazy roadtrip of a play.
Hemphill cast the show with a delightfully diverse and multi-talented group of students who all bring something special to their performances. Aside from the actor playing Bob himself, everyone in the cast plays multiple roles as well as singing and playing instruments on stage. Hemphill explained that “every person Bob meets on his journey contributes to his individuation, each are a part of who he becomes.” Nachtrieb described the interaction between Bob and the thirty or so characters he meets as “an exchange of energy, they’re all giving each other gifts.” One way Hemphill handled loading in multiple characters and scene changes was to bring in local film maker and fellow Duke instructor Jim Haverkamp to film some of the short scenes. Scenic designer Sarah Krainin has created an enormous off-white set to allow for projections from at least four different locations.
Nachtrieb’s script allows the director a great deal of freedom to interpret statements such as “Interlude 1: a dance about hardship”. Hemphill passed on that artistic freedom to long-time collaborator, NYC composer Allison Leyton-Brown, asking her to come up with music and lyrics to use throughout the show. In keeping with the roadtrip theme of the show, Leyton-Brown choose a rootsy Americana palette with a carnivalesque tilt, as she said “a litte Tom Waits, a little Magnetic Fields.” The cast has been able to work with Leyton-Brown and local musician Louis Landry on music, as well as getting physical movement and clowning training from Jaybird O’Berski, another Duke faculty member and director of Durham’s Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern. All in all, an amazing “exchange of energy” for everyone involved!