SPARTANBURG, S.C. (courtesy wofford.edu) — Wofford Theatre, which began as a January Interim course called Wofford Theatre Workshop, is celebrating its 50th season on stage this year, opening in early November with the critically acclaimed play “Circle Mirror Transformation.”
Dr. James R. (Jim) Gross started the Wofford Theatre Workshop during Interim 1970, directing a production of Harold Pinter’s “The Birthday Party.” More than three decades later, the program became an official academic department under the leadership of Dr. Mark Ferguson, a 1994 Wofford graduate, who continues as a professor and chair of the Department of Theatre and director of Wofford Theatre.
Originally staged in the basement of the old Carlisle Hall on a shoestring budget, Wofford Theatre productions found a new home in 1981 as Gross inaugurated the Tony White Theater in the Campus Life Building with a production of “Twelfth Night.” In the spring of 2017, the department bid farewell to the black box space with a final production of “Twelfth Night,” directed by theatre professor Dan Day.
Wofford Theatre productions now staged in the Rosalind Sallenger Richardson Center for the Arts, which boasts two state-of-the-art performance spaces – the Sallenger Sisters Black Box Theatre and the Jerome Johnson Richardson Theatre.
Over 50 years of performances, the department has endeavored to stay true to its original mission to create theatre that engages, challenges and inspires.
Wofford Theatre’s 2019-20 season begins with the critically acclaimed play “Circle Mirror Transformation” by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Annie Baker. Described by The New York Times as “absorbing, unblinking and sharply funny,” “Circle Mirror Transformation” follows five strangers in the small town of Shirley, Vermont, as they embark together on a creative journey in an acting class. As the characters perform exercises together, they slowly come to make discoveries about themselves, finding unexpected healing in the process. Day directs a double cast of students in Wofford’s production, which will center on the nature and importance of live theatre while celebrating the power of art, empathy and community. “Circle Mirror Transformation” will run at 8 nightly Nov. 7-9 and 13-16 in the Sallenger Sisters Black Box Theatre.
Next on stage will be the 2020 Pulp Theatre production, “Seminar,” running at 8 nightly Jan. 23-25 in the Sallenger Sisters Black Box Theatre. Pulp Theatre productions at Wofford are the culmination of intensive projects that take place over the course of the January Interim term, allowing students to take the lead in every aspect of theatrical production, from directing and performance to design and tech. Written by Pulitzer Prize nominee Theresa Rebeck, “Seminar” will be co-directed by Wofford juniors Kelly Kennedy, a theatre and environmental studies major, and Savannah Talledo, a theatre and chemistry major, both from Spartanburg.
Set in modern-day New York City, this Broadway comedy centers on four aspiring novelists and their professor, an internationally acclaimed writer whose methods are far from orthodox. Over the course of a 10-week writing seminar, desires and tensions flare as allegiances are sacrificed on the altar of ambition.
The season continues with Tony Award-winning musical “Cabaret,” created by John Kander, Fred Ebb and Joe Masteroff, based on a 1939 novel by Christopher Isherwood and a 1951 play by John van Druten. In 1930s Berlin, American novelist Cliff Bradshaw falls in love with British cabaret dancer Sally Bowles at the seedy Kit Kat Klub where she works. Their fates, like that of the club itself, are inexorably altered as the Nazis begin their brutal reign. This gritty and provocative show, which has been revived several times on Broadway and in London, was adapted for a critically acclaimed film in 1972 and has won numerous awards and nominations since its original 1967 premiere.
Ferguson directs Wofford’s production, which will be presented at 8 nightly April 16-18 and 22-25 in the Jerome Johnson Richardson Theatre.
The season concludes with an original play for young audiences, written and directed by local playwright and Wofford lecturer Kerry M. Ferguson. During the spring semester, Ferguson will lead a Theatre for Youth course in which students will study the art of creating children’s theatre and collaborate to bring her play to life in the Sallenger Sisters Black Box Theatre. Audiences of all ages are invited to attend this world premiere production, which will run at 6 p.m. daily May 7-9, with an additional matinee performance at 2 p.m. May 9. Admission for this show will be free, but seating is limited.
Visit www.wofford.edu/boxoffice for more information and to purchase discounted tickets in advance. Same-day online ticket sales close at 6 p.m. each evening, and the box office opens at 7 p.m. in the Rosalind Sallenger Richardson Center for the Arts.