Enmity of the People

The University of Dayton is updating Henrik Ibsen's environmentally themed 1882 drama, An Enemy of the People, to reflect contemporary issues including the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy.

Enmity of the People will be presented at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Feb. 24-25, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 26, at the Black Box Theatre in Raymond L. Fitz Hall on the University campus.

The production — which features actors, acrobatics, puppetry and masks — is a collaboration among the University’s theatre, dance and performance technology program, San Francisco’s UpLift Physical Theatre and the Dayton-based Zoot Theatre Company.

“This production gives students the rare opportunity to work in a setting that resembles that of a professional company,” said lecturer Jerome Yorke, the show’s director. “By working in an ensemble, the students work side-by-side with UpLift and Zoot company members, who are highly regarded artists.”

Ibsen’s play, adapted in 1950 by Arthur Miller, concerns a doctor who attempts to expose a water pollution scandal in his town, which is about to establish itself as a spa. The mayor, who is the doctor’s brother, conspires to suppress the story and has the doctor declared an “enemy of the people.”

Enmity of the People is a “devised” adaptation that takes the themes from Miller’s translation, strips away the dialogue and then rebuilds the story with Ibsen’s characters using the cast and crew’s movement and imagination.

“With this show we were able to craft characters and create scenes,” said Mary Stoughton, a senior theater major from Beavercreek, Ohio. “We kept the central themes of Ibsen’s work and Miller’s adaptation, but we really have made it our own. That has been an incredible experience.”

The ensemble features 10 students, including six performers, three designers and an assistant stage manager. Many other students constructed sets, props and costumes, and also created and operate the lighting plot.

Betsy Mazza, a sophomore political science major from Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, is working as a costumer for the production. She said puppets and masks are used symbolically to create a surreal dynamic.

“It’s definitely one of the most interesting things I’ve ever been a part of,” Mazza said.

Yorke said the adaptation draws parallels to the aforementioned water crises and contamination fears, as well as Dayton’s own history with industrial pollution.

The production is co-sponsored by the University of Dayton Hanley Sustainability Institute, founded in in 2014 with the goal of making the University a national leader for innovation in sustainability education.

“The Institute recognizes that the arts have a role to play in communicating the message of environmental stewardship in a unique way that results in empathic understanding for audiences,” said Michelle Hayford, director of the theatre, dance and performance technology program.

Enmity of the People marks the University’s third collaboration with Zoot, which specializes in puppets and masks. It is the first with UpLift, a collaborative of actor-acrobats trained in ensemble-based physical theatre at Dell’Arte International. The latter company is in residence on campus during February.

Yorke, who joined the faculty in 2015, is a core ensemble member of UpLift. He made his University directorial debut last year with And a Child Shall Lead, also in collaboration with Zoot Theatre.

Russell Florence of Dayton Most Metro named that show as the region’s best collegiate production of a play for the 2015-2016 performance season.

Yorke’s students are enjoying their introduction to physical theater.

Jorge Muñoz, a senior from Ponce, Puerto Rico, who is majoring in communication and minoring in theater, is required to perform acrobatics. With another cast member, he also flips and spins a heavy table that doubles as a podium and other structures during the play.

“It’s pretty interesting work and it wears you out quickly,” Muñoz said. “You’ve got to have some stamina and a considerable amount of strength to do it.”

Stoughton, whose dreams of becoming a professional dancer were dashed by injury, said the production allows her to use her physical training and skills.

“I have never done this kind of work before, but I think this is the area I will continue into with a master’s degree,” she said. “This is my niche of theater — I think I’ve found what I want to do.”

Tickets are $12; $8 for University students. For tickets, contact the University Box Office at 937-229-2545 or visit tickets.udayton.edu.

- Dave Larsen, communication coordinator, College of Arts and Sciences

Photos by Kristin Davis.

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