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GTCC involves city leaders to update a classic

by Lenise Willis

| lenise@yesweekly.com

Last school year, Guilford Technical Community College brought back spandex and the fun and daring ’80s, and now the theater is throwing back even further — to the 1930s — as they put a twist on a classic.

Next week, GTCC’s Fine Arts Theatre will present Thornton Wilder’s beloved drama and masterpiece Our Town, in honor of the play’s 75 th anniversary.

June Guralnick, a 30-year veteran of theater and head of the Theatre Arts Program, has a knack for adding that touch of fun detail that thrills and involves the audience, and this time she has even more surprises in her contemporary interpretation of the play.

The original piece uses a bare set and miming to look at the everyday life of the average citizen in the early 20 th century, but Guralnick has updated the play to reflect today’s time — and appeal to today’s audience. Guralnick says that it’s the modernization that will take the play back to its original intentions.

“Over the years the play has become encrusted into a museum piece almost — a look at the past. But everything that I’ve read about Wilder says that’s not what he wanted.”

Guralnick says the playwright wanted his work to reflect the audience’s time, environment and circumstances. He wanted the play to be about the audience, and so the play has to evolve along with its viewers in order to remain familiar and to truly have the same effect.

Set in the near future, the fictional town of Grover’s Corners has experienced a Katrina-like disaster. As the play unfolds, the inhabitants desperately try to rebuild their lives and find hope amidst the ruins.

“There’s a reason the play is called ‘Our Town,’” Guralnick said. “I wanted it to be local to the Triad, and I had that in mind while casting. I think that’s what the play is about. That’s the way Thornton wanted it.”

“For this special anniversary production, we will be returning to Wilder’s original intention to break down the separation between audience and actor,” Guralnick continued. “Part of the play’s enduring charm is that Wilder has incorporated characters who speak directly from the audience, so we have invited various community leaders to take on these roles. It’s going to be great fun.”

The Our Town cast includes actors of a wide range of ages, from 12-75, including students and faculty from local universities and colleges, public school students and teachers, and even city officials and community leaders, including Jamestown Mayor Keith Volz; Dave Briggs, the director of High Point Theatre; and Debbie Lumpkins, director of High Point Area Arts Council.

“We set this challenge to get the community involved. It’s been really exciting, but definitely challenging,” Guralnick said. “I’m proud of what we’ve done with it.”

Guralnick said that Wilder wrote the play with a bare set in mind so that it would be more striking for the audience. “He was being radical and wanted to break down the pretty of it,” she said. “But that’s not radical anymore, so we’ve developed a set that stills breaks down that barrier for the audience, but it’s not bare.

“In keeping with that motif we have some surprises for the audience,” Guralnick added. “And the sound score acts as a river of sound beneath the play; it supplements it.”

Our Town first premiered in 1938 at the McCarter Theatre in New Jersey, subsequently moving to Broadway and winning the Pulitzer Prize that same year. The play also earned the 1989 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Revival and the 1989 Tony Award for Best Revival. Our Town has been adapted for radio and film over the years starring actors such as Paul Newman, Hal Holbrook and Orson Welles.

“You’ve always heard it called a masterpiece and now I know why,” Guralnick said. “It’s an incredibly beautiful play and timeless.”

WANNA go?

GTCC’s Fine Arts Theatre presents Our Town Nov. 7-9 and 14-16 at the Joseph S. Koury Hospitality Careers Center, Jamestown Campus, 601 High Point Road. Tickets are $15 general public; $10 GTCC staff and alumni; $5 GTCC students. For tickets or more call 336.887.3001 or visit highpointtheatre.com. There will be a pre-show dinner offered by GTCC’s Culinary Arts Program at 7 p.m. Nov. 7 and Nov. 14 at the Joseph S. Koury Hospitality Careers Center.

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