Kate Rogers, Staff Writer
“It was September. And there was a town, and there was a circus, and there was a railroad, and there was a man with red hair, and there was…an elephant.”
Put on by USM’s Student Performing Artists (SPA), Elephant’s Graveyard by George Brant is a play about a circus visiting the tiny town of Erwin, Tennessee. Based on a true story and local legend, the events that took place on this day in September of 1916 led to the only ever known lynching of an elephant. The play explores the wide ranging emotions of the characters, and provokes thought about morality and human reaction. “The show itself is a really unique thing,” said cast member Cobi O’Reilly, who plays the ringleader. “There’s not many parts of history that show the human psyche so well.”
SPA is entirely student led. They do their own organizing, fundraising and advertising. But this absolutely does not affect the quality of the performances. “Student led doesn’t equal bad— we do a very nice job,” said director Collin Young. This charming, shocking piece of art is guaranteed to grip the audience and leave them with goosebumps. Every cast member brings enthusiasm and a powerful voice to the story. Truly this organization is full of talented individuals who execute this performance extremely well.
The best part of SPA is that it’s not only for experienced theatre majors—it’s for everyone. Roughly half the cast are from other majors, some have been there for four years, some are freshmen. Many of the cast members mentioned how incredibly grateful they are for the opportunities SPA has given them. Student Thomas Mclaughlin had no experience when he came to SPA at request of a friend, but was given a script and a chance. At first, Mclaughlin didn’t know why he was there, but “It’s been a wonderful experience,” he said. He specifically praised the SPA for being such a close knit, self sustaining group. “It’s nice to not have the pressure of the main stage. We rely on each other,” he said. History major Cosette Holmes said that Elephant’s Graveyard is her first show at USM, and she’s had a great experience working on it. “I’m really, super grateful,” Holmes said.
With nearly twenty people on the cast and crew, Elephant’s Graveyard is SPA’s largest show in known history. Because of this growth, there was an attempt to partner with Spire 29, a performance space on the square in Gorham. The crew was extremely excited for this expansion, because it would have been the first time SPA had performed outside the Black Box Theatre under Russell Hall. Unfortunately, they were unable to work with this venue and will be putting on the show in the Black Box as usual.
Cobi O’Reilly had talked at length about how great an opportunity it would be to be expand off campus and work in an outside space. “SPA is supposed to be getting students ready for the real world,” O’Reilly said. Their aim is to help students to want to be actors and directors and work on sets, and having to work in a new space and transfer sets and learn the new stage is great practice. Even this change was a learning opportunity for the cast, said Young. “I don’t think the production will suffer at all for the change,” he said. “This is excellent training for what will inevitably happen outside the college setting.”
Having this opportunity fall through is disappointing but it does not mean they won’t attempt to expand again. “I’m sure we’ll try again in the future. If we want to do a show that would be better suited off campus, we would definitely keep off campus venues in mind,” said cast member Ezra Briggs, a junior political science major.
SPA encourages anyone interested in any part of performance to get involved with them. Be it acting, directing, tech, set or costume design– anyone and everyone on campus is welcome to come. SPA has open meetings every Wednesday at 3:30 in the Black Box Theatre under Russell Hall. Audition posters also go up around campus before every show, so students should be on the look-out for those.
Elephant’s Graveyard will be showing on February 9th at 7:00 p.m., and February 10th and 11th at 2:00 p.m.. Admission prices are 10$ general admission and 8$ for students. SPA may be adding more performances of Elephant’s Graveyard to compensate for the change in performance space, updates can be found on the Facebook event page: “USM’s Student Performing Artists Present: Elephant’s Graveyard.”