While Jack Benjamin has directed numerous plays in his 32 years at the University of South Carolina Aiken, he’s taken a new approach to casting in his latest play.
The upcoming production of Our Town will be the final one as director for Benjamin, who started the theater’s drama program, and he’s giving his drama alumni a spot in one of the four performances Oct. 12-15 if they just show up.
“I’ve never done this in my life, and they all know it,” he said. “Since it’s simply to walk on stage, and since they graduated from the program, they ought to know how to do it.”
Usually even ensemble characters are required to attend rehearsals to know where to stand, when to come in and how to react during a scene, but since this is his last play as director and many people who now live in other parts of the country wanted the chance to be part of it, he’s trying this unusual approach.
“If they show up, we’ll figure it out,” he said.
Our Town is the perfect play for this kind of experiment, he said. It’s set in New Hampshire in the early 1900s, but it could represent any small city including Aiken. It had elements that lent to needing extra actors to fill in such as a wedding and a funeral scene.
There are no costume fittings to worry about as Benjamin said walk-on cast members will receive overcoats to cover their street clothes.
Written by Thornton Wilder, Our Town won the 1938 Pulitzer Prize and is considered a classic of American theater, yet Benjamin said many people are not familiar with it. That’s another reason for bringing it to the stage.
Benjamin said he’s received a lot of response to his unusual call, but he has no idea how many former students will actually be able to be in attendance.
Benjamin has been at USC Aiken since 1986. He first worked as an assistant professor of theater and director of theater. He had been the chairman of the Department of Visual and Performing Arts since 1996. In 2012, he became he executive director of the Etherredge Center. He has directed more than 70 plays at USC Aiken and more than 150 in his professional career, according to his bio on the USCA website.
He will continue in his position until June, and he said even though he won’t be directing another show, there’s plenty to keep him busy.
The theater department has a short-play program set for early December, an evening of short plays in the spring, and a performance of Doubt in April.
The Etherredge Center is also home to a cultural series, community performances, student recitals and musical events.
Our Town will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 12-14 and at 2 p.m. Oct. 15. Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for senior citizens and $8 for students.
For more information, call (803) 641-3305 or visit etherredge.usca.edu.