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All About 'Arcadia'

On a Semester of Stoppard
All About 'Arcadia'

Glenn Aucoin as Septimus Hodge and Kate Zenor as Thomasina Coverly in LSU'S production of Tom Stoppard's 'Arcadia.'

Spring 2018 has been a Stoppard-filled semester at LSU and the Ogden Honors College.

Capitalizing on Swine Palace and LSU Theatre’s timely production of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, the Honors College granted students the opportunity to experience the renowned play from multiple perspectives. Whether it was through Dr. Vince LiCata’s Ogden Book Club, Dr. George Judy’s HNRS seminar, or the OH!Pass program, students were able to immerse themselves in Stoppard’s play throughout the semester.  

Arcadia time-travels – so-to-speak – between 1809 and the present day. While the time period changes throughout the play, the setting does not: the sweeping, elegant estate of the Coverly family remains at the center of the action throughout each scene. The ongoing renovation of the Arcadian landscape into Gothic gardens serves as the backdrop to the intellectual debates between thirteen year-old Thomasina Coverly and her tutor, Septimus.

Coinciding with the play’s on-campus performance, the Honors College offered an HNRS course titled Staging Stoppard and Shakespeare; Reading for Production and Performance, taught by Gresdna A. Doty Professor George Judy. Judy’s course delved into the nuances of reading plays from pre to post-production, with an eye to the qualities that make a performance come to life for an audience.

Alternatively, for students who wanted to experience the theatrical elements of the play itself, they could purchase OH!Pass tickets to one of the performances. OH!Pass is a partnership of the Ogden Honors College and the College of Music and Dramatic Arts, established to provide enrichment through free attendance for Ogden students to outstanding music and theatre events throughout the academic year. 

Dr. Vince LiCata, who hosted an Ogden Book Club this semester and served as an advisor for the play, explained a little bit about what makes Arcadia a great piece to teach and how this semester created a rich environment to better understand and engage with the play. LiCata taught an immersive version of Arcadia as the focus of his Spring 2018 book club, complete with scenes read out loud, gender-bent characters (the practice of casting male actors in traditionally female roles, and female actors in traditionally male roles), and attendance at a showing of the play itself.

“One of the nice things about Stoppard that I think is true of really good playwrights is that some of his stuff is really good and some of his stuff doesn't work, in my opinion,” LiCata explained. “Some of his plays are brilliant, and some you're just sort of like, what in the world was that? Arcadia works.”

Though LiCata is a faculty member in the College of Science, he is also a playwright who writes science-based plays that have been produced in Baltimore, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Kansas City, New York, Lafayette, Baton Rouge and Bangkok. Additionally, he has also appeared onstage, including in: The Elephant Man, Mousetrap, Arsenic and Old Lace, Killing the Beast, Uncle Vanya, The Grass Harp, Spoon River Anthology, Twelve Angry Men, and locally in: All in the Timing, A View of the DomeThe Adventures of Little Red Riding Hood, and Sacred Waste. His works include COCKTAIL, co-written with Ping Chong and DNA STORY.

Throughout the development of LSU’s showing of Arcadia, LiCata served as the science advisor for the play, and so is intimately familiar with both Stoppard and the process of performance.

“As advisor, I was mostly doing things like organizing the Science Cafe as a way of introducing audiences to the science in it. I went to George Judy's class and talked to them about the science,” LiCata said. “I talked to a number of different actors about their particular parts, particularly Valentine's part and Septimus' part,” he said.

According to LiCata, part of opting for Arcadia as a book club focus had to do with the value of reading the play aloud as a group.

“We read it aloud and switched people from part to part between each scene. Whoever was playing Septimus, for example, would then, the next scene, have to play somebody else,” he recalled. “The sessions were lively and raucous sometimes, especially when jokes are in the play and people get them for the first time.”

Arcadia is known for its complexities, from its scientific and mathematical elements, to its time shifting setting, to its sophisticated dialogue. For LiCata, the play’s intricacies made it ideal for the book club setting.

“I know you get a lot more out of it when you read it than when you actually see it because it just moves so fast,” he said. “A lot of times, just watching the play you miss half of what's going on, but when you read it you can actually dig into it, get all the jokes, get all the references and everything.” 

When students departed from the small group space of the book club to view the play later in the semester, they encountered Stoppard through a different lens: as audience members rather than actors.

“I got all kinds of different feedback. There were people that said that parts when it was performed were different than when it was read, and some people liked it better, some worse,” he said. “It is that kind of play; it's such a dense, rich play, and it's like, you can really sort of start to see a character one way when you read it, and when you see how they play it on stage, you may wonder why they made those choices. But that was part of what I wanted to do.”

From classroom to stage, Honors students experienced Arcadia and all its many parts – the look, the feel and the words – that bring a play to life for student, audience and actor alike.

 

Jacqueline DeRobertis | Communications Coordinator 

(225) 578-0083  | jacquelined@lsu.edu