If the set for "Lovesong" resembles a house, it's because it is one.
From the kitchen cabinets to the hardwood floors, the set for this upcoming dance-theater piece is the real thing. Bare Bait Dance, a local contemporary modern company, decided to give audiences an "immersive" experience to start off its sixth season, said co-director Kelly Bouma. It turns out that her house in the Slant Streets neighborhood would make a readymade set.
Now that rehearsals are underway, the rooms on the open-plan ground floor have been cleared out. There's space for some 25 audience members to sit on chairs and cushions, with a view of the kitchen. Partway through the show, they'll get up and move to the other half of the house, where a bedroom set has been arranged. For some scenes, the cast will be in the backyard.
"Bringing this particular house to life has been a huge part of the process," said Bernadette Sweeney, the show's guest collaborative director.
Celebrated British playwright Abi Morgan's "Lovesong" is indeed a love story, one that traverses "life and death and memory and loss," Bouma said. It's set in the present, when the couple is in their late 60s and coping with serious circumstances and choices. Through the husband's memories, viewers meet the couple in their 20s and follow their relationship through its struggles and happier moments.
Two sets of actors portray the couple and often appear onstage simultaneously.
"There are lovely moments of overlap between the two worlds," said Sweeney, a doctorate-holding UM theater professor from Ireland. She directed Rep's touring production of "The Miracle Worker" in 2014, and last year's UM production of "Romeo and Juliet."
Bouma and Sweeney have admired the script since it premiered in 2012, particularly for a unique melange of sound, movement and text that "hasn't been replicated since," Bouma said.
Once they decided to stage it for Bare Bait, they sought out a guest cast of professional actors for roles that are "challenging physically and emotionally."
Bouma and Colton Swibold play the couple in their youth. Their older incarnations are portrayed by Mark Metcalf and Pamyla Stiehl.
Almost everyone has a UM affiliation: Swibold is a theater graduate who's toured with the Montana Repertory Theatre. Bouma is a theater instructor and MFA graduate. Stiehl is a new assistant professor of theater.
Metcalf moved to Missoula after his son enrolled at UM. He played the nemesis, Niedermeyer, in "Animal House," "The Maestro" on "Seinfeld," and The Master on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."
Sweeney and scenic designer Mike Fink designed the set. Peter Musante, a visiting artist last year, designed the sound, following up on his work on Bare Bait productions "Hysteria" and "the.humanest."
Morgan developed the play with Frantic Assembly, one of the biggest companies behind the devised theater movement in the United Kingdom, Sweeney said. Because of its emphasis on movement, it's often called "physical theater," although Sweeney said it's something of a misnomer, since all theater is technically physical.
Bouma said there's no outright dancing, instead there "choreographic moments." The script is heavy on stage directions, but they developed much of it to suit the cast and its unconventional space.
In one unique aspect of the production, there's no real "off stage" — instead there's a bathroom that separates the two main spaces plus stairs.