Tuesday, March 04, 2008

A Conversation with Barbara Sher, MV 25

By Jeffrey C. Turbitt

Last year I was struck by the quality and originality of the performances in the play "In Transit," which told the individual stories of various folks stuck in an airport and revolved around the central theme of the interconnectedness of all of us. That play inspired me personally to write my own short theater piece and learn a bit about the acting craft from long time theater director Barbara Sher, who is also an author, actress and PSS occupational therapist. The latest incarnation of Sher's theatrical passion is called "The Play Buffet: A Little Something for Everyone's Taste," and it debuts on Friday March 7 at 7:00 pm in the American Memorial Park Theater. Follow up performances will take place on March 8, 13 and 14. In this conversation, Sher discussed this upcoming play and the thirst actors and patrons here in the CNMI have for live theater.

JCT: You have a play opening on Friday. What is it all about? Where did the idea come from and what are your hopes, goals and expectations for this production?

BAS: We have a theater ensemble group called the Voices of The Marianas. The idea is to have original theater in which people from different cultures, walks of life and ages can have an opportunity to tell their stories. The hope is that by hearing other's stories, we can understand them better. It's our way, if you will, of helping to promote peace by accepting diversity. It's easier to accept others differences when we hear their stories and see the ways we are alike. This year's show is called "The Play Buffet: A Little Something For Everyone's Taste." In the show we have ten pieces that run the gamut from a Hollywood 40's type piece to very personal epiphanies and the cast ranges in age from teenagers to elders. As I said, a little something for everyone. We hope to entertain, enlighten and delight our audience and perhaps inspire them to want to express their voice for the next show.

JCT: How has the public reacted to the previous theater offerings you've been involved with?

BAS: Our first production was last year and we had a cast from a mix of cultures. The play took place at an airport where everyone was stuck because of a typhoon. To pass the time, people began to tell their stories and the action got pretty exciting and unpredictable. We weren't sure if we'd get much of an audience for this show, but figured if each us got our friends to come, it would be enough to pay for the rental of the theater. We were shocked and very delighted when each show was sold out and we got standing ovations. We were pleased to find out that there were so many people here interested in original theater.

JCT: How has live theater evolved here in the time you've been on island?

BAS: There has been a wonderful group called the Friends of the Arts that have been putting on productions prolifically for years. They are amazing. They mostly put on professional pieces, not original ones written by local people. That's where our group is different. There is now another original theater group called The Fabulous Invalid Theater Company, which is also very good. We are fortunate to have exciting live theater on this small island.

JCT: How would you describe the talent pool of actors on the islands?

BAS: It's a very mixed group. We have some people who are professionals and even have had their own shows Off-Broadway. Some have done high school shows recently or way back when. Others have never acted in their lives. There are many people who just naturally act in their lives and it's just a matter of getting them to do it on stage.

JCT: Do you expect to be involved in future productions, and if so, any specific ideas, and are you open to novices who would like to get involved? What advice would you offer to a novice interested, but scared and nervous, about actually performing?

BAS: We plan to do this every year. Maybe, someday, twice a year. I would want people who are inspired to start writing something right away. Generally people act what they write, but we have had people who just want to write and others who just want to act. If someone is scared and nervous about it, they should know that everyone starts off scared and nervous. It just takes a bunch of rehearsing and getting comfortable with the part to get past it. They'll surprise themselves with how good they can get with a little dedication.

JCT: How did you get interested in theater yourself, where are some of the places you've performed and what do you enjoy most about working in live theater?

BAS: I was part of a theater group in Northern California for 30 years and a dedicated audience to other groups. Everything done was original and many of our shows included elaborately choreographed dancing. I still often write pieces for an annual monologue show they do. What I like best about doing theater is getting a chance to say real things. I think the canned television shows and the reality shows teach people poor social relationships and superficiality. In live original theater we have a chance to be more profound.

Jeffrey C. Turbitt is the language arts department chairman at Saipan Southern High School, as well as an avid scuba diver and traveler. He offers more thoughts in his blog Hypercritical Thoughts at: www.turbittj.blogspot.com/ He welcomes feedback, tips and story ideas at turbittj@yahoo.com. His column appears regularly on Wednesdays.

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