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Davis, California

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

UC Davis thespians set sail with Moby Dick

Get ready to experience Moby-Dick as you have never seen it before in The Moby-Dick Variations.

The Moby Dick Variations an unconventional piece of theatre conceived and directed by John Zibell, UC Davis Master of Fine Arts directing candidate. It is inspired by Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick and uses the same themes of perspective and multiculturalism as the novel, but it views them through a contemporary lens, exploring the multiplicity of perspectives within and outside of the novel.

“I’m telling everyone it’s not a play, it’s 135 little theatrical events inspired by Moby-Dick,” Zibell said.

The performance is very different from a traditional theatrical play. Moby-Dick is the story of wandering sailor Ishmael and his voyage with Captain Ahab on the ship Peoquod.

The Moby-Dick Variations portray the novel’s plot in a non-linear fashion. Zibell’s objective is two-fold: to allow the audience to experience the many different perspectives the novel offers and to let them further their perspectives through their and the actors’ modern views.

The aim is to break every expectation that the audience has when they walk into the show. One of the unique aspects of the show is that there will be no seats for the audience. There will be several playing areas throughout the theatre and the audience will be milling through so they can see whichever bits they want. In essence, each audience member can create his or her own experience of the play.

The performers include people of all ages and backgrounds, from undergraduates to Ph.D students to professors. All of them have gotten the chance to try new things and step outside of what they normally do.

Cast member Will Klundt, a MFA candidate at UC Davis, liked being able to experiment with this performance in a way that would not have been possible in other plays. It has also changed his perspective of performing and acting.

“I’m playing Ishmael but I don’t think of it as portraying a character in the same way I normally would because of the process we’ve had. Being able to look at character in a new way is exciting,” Klundt said.

This performance will include all types of acts including dance, spoken word poetry, theatrical acting, video and still projections, and singing. Zibell wouldn’t give too much about the play away but he did say to expect a life-sized whale.

Cast member and sophomore Kevin Adamski particularly enjoyed the freedom the play gave him.

“It’s cool to be able to create material without restrictions. There’s freedom to do what you want; and it’ll get filtered into the show, but the freedom you start out with is liberating and exciting to let your imagination run wild like that,” Adamski said.

Another remarkable part of the performance is that there will be a painter on stage who will paint a painting live. The painting is based on the beginning passage of Moby-Dick that describes a painting that could mean anything depending on how people view it. Every night the painter will repaint it.

Dylan Bolles, a Ph.D candidate in performance studies, is composing the show’s music. He builds his own instruments and is making some especially for the show. Additionally, he is working with the performers on vocal scoring and how to integrate the songs into the show.

Zibell said the performers won’t necessarily stick to their specialties, which was a conscious choice on his part.

“I think the most exciting thing for me has been seeing actors choreographing dance, dancers singing and singers acting. To see artists come into a process and find things outside their comfort zone, to do something they haven’t done before and to do it on a level that is professional is amazing,” Zibell said.

A major theme throughout the production is the search for meaning and how to arrive at meaning. This will be reflected in the show by the different performances and acting. The audience will have to let go of previous expectations just as the performers had to, Kludt said.

“There’s been a lot of letting go of my own expectations of what a performance can be and finding new things. To play with chaos, you have to experience chaos and surrendering to that can be challenging but I found a lot of inspiration within that,” Klundt said.

The play opens tonight at 8 p.m. and continues through Sunday, May 15 at the Vanderhoef Studio Theatre, Mondavi Center for Performing Arts. Tickets are available online at http://mondaviarts.org or by phone at (530) 754-2787. For more information, including ticket purchase options go to http://theatredance.ucdavis.edu.

PAAYAL ZAVERI can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.


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