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Thesis Christ: Autumn Dobbins ‘13

Autumn Dobbins

Autmun Dobbins’s ’13 thesis: “Reimagining Scenic Design to Reflect Digital Sensibilities.”

Sometimes, at the end of an odyssey, you have to walk around, waiting for someone to ask if your oar is a fan for winnowing grain. Sometimes you do a thesis.

Autumn Dobbins ’13, of Kirksville, Missouri is doing her Theater thesis on a new way of designing for the stage to reflect the digital age. A critical component of her thesis, which she is working on with Theatre Professor Peter Ksander, is a production called “BRB,” in which Reedies improvise lines on stage while incorporating the story of Homer’s Odyssey. Autumn devised, directed, and did the scenic and lighting design for her thesis production.

Autumn has been planning her thesis since last February, when she had to take her junior qual. But the main inspiration for her thesis didn’t come until a few months later. “I came across this reading over the summer that posited that we design in a way that reflects societal ideas of space and time,” says Autumn. “For instance, in Ancient Greece, you would have these large amphitheaters set up on a hillside overlooking the Acropolis. Everything was centered–the whole way of life was centered–on that place, so they built it up on a mountaintop, and that would actually be the backdrop for your show,” she explains.

“And then you have the World Wars where everyone’s like what the fuck is going on now? And then you get crazy things like Dadaism and Futurism where nothing makes sense on stage as a reaction to that,” Autumn adds.

Autumn says that recently, her perceptions of theater productions haven’t adhered to the pattern of society dictating design. “I always thought what I see on stage seems really outdated. And I think it’s because this whole introduction of the digital age changes everything,” she explains. “It changes the way that we see space and interact with people and place and the way that we understand and perceive time.”

Autumn wants to incorporate our different perceptions of the world into her thesis production. She says that she mostly focused on the design aspect of her thesis, and asked herself the question, “How do you need to design for the stage in a way that reflects this new way we exist in the world?”

At first, Autumn says, she thought the answer was to put a lot of technology into the show. But showcasing technology in the production also seemed like an outdated idea. “I think now it’s so ingrained in us,” says Autumn. “These pieces of technology are what we live on, we exist in. So the way that we integrate the technology has to be as seamless as the way that we live with it.” Autumn says that she accomplishes this seamlessness through live video feed, but wouldn’t reveal any more for fear of spoiling the show.

She also stresses that she chose the Odyssey in order to anchor the production in something that all Reedies can relate to. “The Internet allows for a conversation. There’s a total interactivity, and so we wanted it to be about the students here,” she explains.

She also wants Reedies to relate to the production in other ways. “So what it has become is a group of Reed students improvising and telling the story of the Odyssey but also trying to comment on its relevancy to the contemporary Reed student’s life,” she explains. “There’s a conversation about Reed culture—stress culture and awkward sex culture. You get things like Circe, and you’re like ‘This would never happen at Reed.’ But let’s just talk about it.”

Autumn’s thesis also has a written component, which covers her thesis production as well as other theater groups that interact with their audience. But Autumn sounds most excited when she talks about her production and its possibilities. “Live theater needs to focus on what it does best, which is it gets people in a room together. When we’re kind of passively absorbing this stuff [through technology], having to actually be with other people in a room is a good thing. Or at least it’s a unique thing for theater,” she says.

“BRB,” Autumn’s thesis production, will show on Friday, February 15th and Saturday, February 16th at 7:30 PM. All performances will take place in Eliot Hall.

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