The University of Wisconsin-River Falls Theatre will present “Kwaidan: Strange Tales from East Asia” April 24-26 and May 1-3, 7:30 p.m., in the Syse Theatre in the Kleinpell Fine Arts building.
The idea for this original production was born two years ago while theatre professor Robin Murray was viewing the Edo Pop exhibit at the Minneapolis Art Institute.
Lakeland Union High School graduate Josh Gustafson was cast in the show and is excited about the opportunity to participate in a production at the college level.
“What makes this show different from things that I have done in the past is the fact that the story belongs to the ensemble,” Gustafson told The Lakeland Times this week.
“We made the story ourselves, aside from the actual East Asian ghost tales. It is amazing to see the small ideas that we had in our devising time to build up into an incredible and terrifying show. Consequently, that’s what the challenge is; it is sometimes difficult starting completely from scratch. But, we had a very creative ensemble and the ghosts of the East Asian cultures to help us in our devising task.”
Struck by the similarities between ancient woodblock prints, contemporary manga and anime, and learning of the “One Hundred Candles” parlor game played in 18th century Japan, Murray thought it might be interesting to explore ways to dramatize ghost stories in a fashion that would invite young people to make the connections between their beloved anime and historical literature.
Murray collaborated with UW-RF theatre major and Falcon Scholar summer recipient Jeremy Liend and their ensemble cast to devise a play that depicts ghost stories that are scary, creepy, and sometimes humorous.
“My role in the show is a heavily involved one: I am part of the cast, I have built parts of the set and I am the sound designer,” Gustafson said.
“My largest contribution, I believe, is the sound design. My job is to tap into the sense of hearing of the audience. Sounds, including sound effects and music, is a powerful tool to set the mood for any story. If the sounds of the ghosts send a chill down the audience’s spine, or prompt the need for an early bathroom break, then I have succeeded.”
The polished result is a play about a group of students on a study exchange trip in Japan who learn about the “One Hundred Candles” parlor game and try to play it in an abandoned Bunraku puppet theatre in Tokyo.
The evening turns out to be more frightening than they imagined – and who knows what will happen if the 100th candle is put out?
“The audition process was certainly different from what I have experienced before,” Gustafson said. “There was no script to read, except a couple of the stories the directors had planned to do for the show. And, since this is a puppet show, we worked with puppets, which are our actors for this show. Half of the audition group worked with the story-telling and the other half practiced with puppetry. We then combined the two groups to show the story that we were given. That was our audition. Simple as that.
“When I was cast, I was, of course, very happy. Since I had just transferred to UW-RF, it showed that I made a good first impression and was on the right track. It is also good that I was able to step into a devised show, which is new to me.
“It is very humbling to be part of the process that brought this show from a few ideas to a full production. I watched as the script was made; I was there to see our set rise to what it is now. I’m proud of myself to say, ‘Hey, that line was my idea’ or ‘I built and painted that.’ The final product is a story with wit, culture and horror.
In addition to Gustafson, other student performers and hometowns are: Vanessa Agnes of Forest Lake, Minn.; Nic Ambroz of Waseca, Minn.; Jon Braun of Cato; Maddie Davis of Bayport, Minn.; Danielle Formanek of Webster; Jeremiah Liend of Bemidji, Minn.; Lisa Miske of Anoka, Minn.; Kelly Mohn of Woodbury, Minn.; Allison Morin of Inver Grove Heights, Minn.; Christine O’Toole of Iron Ridge; Ashley Sager of New Richmond; Marie Sallman of Roseville, Minn.; Warren Taylor of Plymouth, Minn.; Brin Waskow of Prescott, Ariz.; Maddie Weber of Edgerton; Kendra Yarke of St. Paul.
Admission is $11 for adults tickets, $9 for seniors, and $5 for students.
Due to the nature of the show, no one under age 11 will be admitted into performances.
Tickets may be purchased or reserved through the university theatre box office in Kleinpell Fine Arts or by phone at 715-425-3114.
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call the box office.
“So come and see our show!” Gustafson exclaimed. “We’ll tell you a real ghost story.”