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Site-Specific Staging of ‘Peer Gynt’ Breaks Rules, Boundaries

Production is first-ever collaboration between Augsburg, University of Minnesota

A ground-breaking production of Henrik Ibsen’s “Peer Gynt” will take theater goers on a fantastic voyage that includes oversized birds and trolls, original music and simultaneous scenes, all while attendees and performers travel a quarter-mile portion of the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.

The play, a 1.5-hour production condensed from Robert Bly’s 3-hour script of 2008, represents a first-time collaboration between theater departments at Augsburg and the University of Minnesota. It’s also probably a first for site-specific theater of this scale for theatergoers in the Twin Cities. “Peer Gynt” will be performed seven times from April 10-13.

Collaboration at work

“We created an accessible, site-specific production that is rich for the actors and the audience,” said Darcey Engen, associate professor and chair of Augsburg’s Theater Arts. “This adaptation demanded new partnerships between schools and with many theater artists – puppeteers, movement specialists, musicians, fight choreographers. It means audience members will be pummeled with sensory stimuli.”

Engen said the production is complex partly due to the many logistics, some that can be planned for and others that cannot. The student cast is nearly 40 people from two institutions. Original music was developed. Set pieces had to be built with consideration of the changes that occur throughout the arboretum. Then there’s the weather.

“It might be sunny or raining or breezy,” Engen said. “But as performers, that’s part of the challenge of site-specific theater. For attendees, it’s the chance to see what is – because of the variables – a once-in-a-lifetime performance and to leave having been an active traveller with the actors in the play.”

But all this makes a production such as this particularly rewarding for students.

“Students at Augsburg and the University of Minnesota are hip deep in creating this play. They are building hands-on experience in creative problem-solving with some of the Twin Cities’ finest in theater and are gaining exposure to our master puppeteers, musicians, movement professionals,” Engen said. “It’s a chance for students to explore the many ways to work in theater and to challenge them to meld these disciplines into a story that will rivet the audience.”

Engen is co-directing the play with Luverne Seifert, head of the Department of Theatre Arts & Dance. Engen and Seifert three years ago established Sod House Theater, which specializes in site-specific productions in rural communities and that partner with local theaters and actors.

Augsburg College is set in a vibrant neighborhood at the heart of the Twin Cities, and offers more than 50 undergraduate majors and nine graduate degrees to nearly 4,000 students of diverse backgrounds.  The theater department was named by Backstage magazine as among the top five U.S. institutions for theater majors who wish to continue their studies professionally.  Augsburg College educates students to be informed citizens, thoughtful stewards, critical thinkers, and responsible leaders.  An Augsburg education is defined by excellence in the liberal arts and professional studies, guided by the faith and values of the Lutheran church, and shaped by its urban and global settings.


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