Encore Michigan

Peer through the windows at Open Book Theatre for ‘Haunted’

Show Announcement October 13, 2020

TRENTON, Mich.–A man comes to the window. Behind him, a shadowy figure appears and grows larger as it approaches.

This October Open Book Theatre Company (OBTC) is excited to present Haunted, running weekends through Halloween. The show is “Window Theatre,” a new way to do theatre safely in these COVID times. The audience sits in the parking lot, while the performers are behind the window.

Opening weekend audience member PJ Sallans said “My husband and I had a great experience! It was so fantastic to be able to see live theater again. The production level was top-notch- the sound quality, lighting, music, everything was done super well. The two actors (and shadow puppeteer!) were compelling and fun, and all worked very well with each other. My favorite story was the Raven- I think I forgot to breathe during it, I was that mesmerized. Overall, I would highly recommend it as a fun Halloween treat to get into the “haunted” spirit of the season! Well done!”

“We love Halloween and wanted to create a fun and safe way for everyone to get together and enjoy the spooky season,” explains OBTC Artistic Director Krista Schafer Ewbank. Sarah Hawkins Rusk, who has directed and acted with Open Book before, not only directed but adapted the stories. She said “ Haunted is a re-telling of some of our favorite Halloween stories with the twist of incorporating shadow puppets to function as both set, atmosphere, and additional actors.

Our two actors play multiple roles over the course of the show, and our puppeteer works with over 30 puppets.” There are two versions of the show. The first, Haunted , features Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven and Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow . This show is under 30 minutes. Extra Haunted is offered later at night and has the first two stories, as well as Bram Stoker’s Dracula , and is scarier and bloodier. Hawkins Rusk wanted to explore the darkness that shadows us.

“In adapting the stories, I was hoping to play with the idea of the things that haunt us that may or may not be real, and how we as humans allow that to influence our lives. This works well with the use of shadow puppets to tell the stories, because shadows are always around us, whether we acknowledge them or not. All the stories selected deal with something that may not be what it seems, and may be dangerous . . . or not.”

Open Book has been working hard to reimagine how to do theatre in new ways that keep artists, staff and audience safe, while still presenting professional, live performances. “Window Theatre has pushed us to rethink how theatre is done, and I’m very excited to be working with a company that understands that theatre needs to change to accommodate this new pandemic reality, but can still exist and bring stories and entertainment to audiences,” Hawkins Rusk says.

“The process has been a joy, because it is a true collaboration.” Schafer Ewbank agreed. “We are trying new things and testing them out. We’re finding and meeting new challenges every day. Where do the lights need to be? How do we hang this screen? What size do we ​make the puppets? Where does the stage manager sit? How do we set up the seats in our parking lot? It’s not easy, but it will be worth it!” Actors Eric Niece and Hannah Niece are a married couple, and so can safely perform together unmasked. The puppeteer, University of Detroit Mercy student Elise Pannemann, will be safely behind a screen and masked. All the theatre staff will be masked. The lobby is being reconfigured to have a performing area, a screen for the shadows, lights, and more. Audience members can reserve socially distant seats near the window, or a place for their cars further back in the lot. The actors will have microphones and there will be speakers outdoors so the audience can hear. Attendees are encouraged to bring a blanket and get cozy. “Michiganders are used to being outside in October,” Schafer Ewbank added, “we know how to dress for the weather!” Tickets for Haunted (the shorter, earlier shows) are $15 for seats or $30 for a car, while Extra Haunted tickets are $20 for seats and $40 for a car. Tickets and more information about Haunted , as well as Open Book’s online theatre offerings, can be found on Open Book’s website, openbooktc.com, or by calling the box office at 734 288-7753. Haunted is directed by Sarah Hawkins Rusk and features Eric Niece and Hannah Niece with Elise Pannemann as the puppeteer. Maria Tejada is the production manager. Harley Miah is designing lights, Sarah Drum is stage managing, and puppets are being designed by Krista Schafer Ewbank.

Week of 11/23/2020

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