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Shepherd celebrates new major with inaugural play

By Staff | Nov 3, 2017

Although the hustle and bustle of the Contemporary American Theater Festival died down months ago, theater buzz at Shepherd University has remained. Most notably was the recent announcement of a new major – Contemporary Theater Studies. Along with the announcement came word of the major’s first production, a play by Steve Yockey titled, “very still & hard to see.” The inaugural presentation will kick off tonight in the Marinoff Theater.

“(The play) is seven short scenes that come together surrounding a theme of consequences for actions, with a surreal flavor,” said CATF general manager and play director Joshua Midgett. “Hopefully it’ll be haunting, terrifying and a little bit beautiful.”

“Very still & hard to see” tells the story of a cursed hotel that unearths worlds populated by the desperate, the unlucky and the monstrous. The play cycle mixes comedic absurdity with raw heartbreak, reminding the audience that the fuzzy line between good and evil can be a single choice.

“It is about the choices one makes in their lives and those times when you question if you are making the right choice or inadvertently make the wrong choice. It’s about how we fight the temptations to make better choices,” said Peggy McKowen, CATF associate producing director and designer for this production.

Playwright Steve Yockey was on hand to assist the production during rehearsal.

“Working with Steve informed some major character decisions,” said Contemporary Theater Studies major Abby Rice, who plays Obake. “It was so cool to have (him) join us. It’s really a once in a lifetime opportunity to have as a college student.”

According to McKowen, Yockey’s play draws inspiration from various sources to deliver a haunting product.

“Clearly the playwright has references to Japanese folktales and performance traditions. There is some of that Japanese silhouette throughout. However, there is more of an occult feeling too and that creepiness,” McKowen said.

Midgett echoed those thoughts, adding that the audience will have to decide what effect the outcome of the play has on them individually.

“Good and evil is blurred in real life. We have characters, who are relatable, who make poor decisions and suddenly it makes them evil. One bad choice can change everything,” he said. “I have no intention of dictating to the audience what they will walk away with. I just want to present a unique world and hopefully they’ll take something away from each scene.”

With this play being the first production for the university’s new major, hopes are high for interest to grow.

“I hope this play will excite the students about theater,” McKowen said. “Theater is not limited to musicals or Shakespearean productions – I hope it broadens their expectations. This program will truly emphasize contemporary theater. We want the students to be strong liberal arts scholars. Hopefully it will be a great educational experience, and a great hands-on experience for all of the students.”

As for what the future holds, Midgett said work on the spring production is already underway.

“They are already discussing the spring production and who will be directing it – whether it will be someone local or maybe from Washington, D.C. With my CATF schedule, I won’t be involved, but they are already discussing everything,” he said.

The production of “very still & hard to see,” directed by Contemporary American Theater Festival General Manager Joshua Midgett, will take place Friday and Saturday, and Nov. 9-11 at 7:30 p.m. in the Marinoff Theater, located at 62 W. Campus Drive. Tickets will be available at the theater one hour before the show and are $10 for the general public, $5 for Shepherd faculty/staff and non-Shepherd University students and free for Shepherd University students.