The interior of the Masquer Theatre will feel more like Shakespeare's Globe for his comedy, "As You Like It."
For the first show in the University of Montana School of Theatre and Dance season, the crews have built a stage fashioned after the one Shakespeare used in the 1500s.
The school knew they were going to stage Shakespeare, so the question was raised: "How do we make an event out of it?" said John Kenneth DeBoer, associate professor of theater.
The two-story set was designed by Alessia Carpoca, a theater professor and the head of design and technology. Carpoca designed a special set last season for "Noises Off!," a meta-comedy about a theater troupe's production of a farce that descends into chaos.
She created a two-story set that could be rotated while on-stage at in the Montana Theatre partway through the production. Half of the play takes place on stage, and the other shows the backstage madness.
Another important feature of the "As You Like It" set is that it can be broken down and reused for future productions. DeBoer guessed that it could be once or twice a year or every other year. In the past, however, the program hasn't reused sets, only small portions of them.
Their new Globe could be used for classical plays — they usually have one per season on their schedule.
"It doesn't just have to be Shakespeare, it could be anything that could use this kind of thrust space," he said. In a "thrust" formation, the audience wraps around the stage on three sides.
The audience in the front row will have a different view than usual in the Masquer — the stage rises about 3 feet off the ground. In the original Globe, the "cheap seats" were standing-room only at the front of the stage.
While "As You Like It" doesn't call for the use of trap doors, it's an option in the future.
They'll make additions and changes to the set as needed — it's the underlying structure that will remain the same, Carpoca said.
Over the coming years, they could expand it to include towers on either side, which could accommodate either more room for staging or seating.
In Shakespeare's time, those seats were used to convey status. "You don't go into the boxes because they're good seats. You go into the boxes because you want people to see you in the boxes," DeBoer said.
Regarding "As You Like It," DeBoer said it's been liberating.
"As a director it's been kind of freeing to use this space. In Shakespeare, there tends to be a desire to do more with the script and expand upon it. Doing it in this sort of space means you're doing it the way it was written. There's not a lot of room to expand. You have to focus down on the language and the intent of the original text," DeBoer said.
"It frames you in more specifically so you're bound by the same restrictions as Shakespeare was bound when he was writing his plays. And I like that," he said.
With lighting and some greenery, the Globe will work much as it did in original productions of Shakepeare's light comedy, a love story with mistaken identities.
There are two pillars on the "floor" of the stage that will serve as "trees" or hiding places in the Forest of Arden.
The costumes will be "more Canterbury Tales than Elizabethan England, but still something that is out of our time period and not contemporary, so the actors have to stylize their worldview in order to immerse themselves in the play," DeBoer said.
The actors won't dabble in period voices, either.
"I'm a big believer that Shakespeare isn't precious in terms of the way that he is pronounced," he said. "Original Shakespearean dialect is closer to Appalachian American dialect than it is to what British people speak today, so the actors are for the most part using their own voices."
Junior Hudson Therriault is playing Orlando, the male lead. It's the BFA major's first time doing Shakespeare or using a Globe-style stage.
"It's fun, it's exhilarating in a different way," he said. With the thrust formation, the actors have to consider their movements.
"As soon as they get the balcony in here, it suddenly was very real. All the levels are very sharp and just the space feels so distinct when you have the balcony in there, from an acting perspective," he said.
"As You Like It" is a part of a relatively light-hearted fall semester for plays.
In November and December, they'll follow up with "Peter and the Starcatcher," a pirate-fighting origin story for Peter Pan, which is based on children's book series by humorist Dave Barry and author Ridley Pearson.
"We're opening with two bright and charming comedies and then we'll have a long dark winter and ending with our punk-rock musical," DeBoer said.
The student productions in the spring get more political, with "In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play" by Sarah Ruhl and "American Idiot," the stage musical based on Green Day's George W. Bush-era pop-punk statement.