October 2, 2008

‘Anton’ Looks at the Business of Shows

By Candy Williams

For the Seton Hill University theater program, the 2008-2009 academic year will be remembered as an end of one era and the beginning of another.

Terry Brino-Dean, director of the program, says this will be the final season for staging shows at Reeves Theatre on Seton Hill's Greensburg campus. The program is scheduled to move its performances to the new University Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Greensburg next year.

To mark the transition, Brino-Dean says the department is dedicating this season's shows to works that relate in some way to the theater profession, some more obviously than others. "This is a nice way to celebrate the theater and close out the space," he says.

The theater department's opening production, "Anton in Show Business," is a retrospective of the industry, commenting on some of the trends and nuances of the profession as seen through the eyes of those who know it best, actors.

For example, the director says, one of the realities for decades has been that the majority of students coming out of university theater programs are women, yet the majority of theater roles, directing and producing positions are controlled by men. The seven- member, all-female cast of "Anton in Show Business" helps to emphasize the problem, he says.

"For a profession that prides itself on being progressive and forward-thinking, theater has a long way to go," he adds.

The comedy by Jane Martin actually is a play-within-a-play, about a San Antonio acting troupe that is staging Anton Chekhov's classic play, "Three Sisters." The work won the American Theatre Critics/ Steinberg New Play Award in 2001.

Brino-Dean says his cast, which features Laura Barron of Grove City, Kristy Bissell of Canonsburg, Chelsea Bloam of St. Marys, Adriana Gissendanner of Clairton, Brittany Huffman of Tyrone, Sarah Laughland of Frederick, Md., and Jeanette Lundell of Sewickley, represents a cross-section of students.

"We run the gamut, from juniors to first-year students in the cast," he says. "We have a very diverse group of young women, some playing a number of roles, which is certainly challenging for them, and others playing characters that are a stretch."

Lundell, a junior, says her role as a famous TV star trying to make it big in the movie business parallels her personal situation as a theater major in a way, which makes it "easier to connect" with her character.

"I can just see her personality in me, which is really weird," Lundell says. "I want to be a theater artist respected for her talent, not for her looks or the role she is playing."

For Adriana Gissendanner, another junior, playing multiple roles was a challenge at first, but she says she feels she has a handle on her characters now.

"I add myself to each character I play," she says. "I can go in and out (of character) simply by putting my emotions into it."

Also working on the production are the Seton Hill student technical staff: Nate Errett of North Huntingdon, stage manager; Katie Ingram of Springdale and Maria Bruno of Apollo, assistant stage managers; and Matt Mlynarski of Lower Burrell, props master. Ken Clothier, Seton Hill theater assistant professor and technical director, is the technical director and sound designer, and Karen Glass, assistant professor of theater, is set designer. Deborra Bergmark-Peelor serves as guest lighting designer.

Brino-Dean says "Anton in Show Business" can be appreciated on a number of levels, not only from the perspective of someone familiar with the theater business.

"It's very funny. There are a lot of inside jokes that appeal to people in theater, but beyond that, it's a great character comedy," he says.

Seton Hill offers a new feature this year, a "dinner-and-a-show" package that includes meals at the Red Star Brewery & Grille in Greensburg's train station. Special ticket prices ($40 evening performances, $35 matinees) include a meal, shuttle to and from Reeves Theatre and admittance to the performance. Dinner selections for evening performance tickets must be made at least five business days before the performance through the Seton Hill box office.

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