By BEBO EDMUNDS
When Laboratory Theater presented
"Metamorphosis" this fall in Chapel
Hill, the actors hardly said more than 50
But the impact came through, especially
the scene in which the main character
received a meat pie, made from his son.
Someone in the audience exclaimed out
loud, "Oh nol"
The actors and actresses wore blue
jeans and were barefooted. How did they
get the message across?
"They act!" explained Richard Ussery,
co-producer of the experimental theater.
Lab Theater was established in 1972 by
Arthur Housman, Chairman of the
Dramatic Art Department, to complement
the Playmakers Theatre season. It was
designed, Dr. Housman said, to give
student artists a chance to experiment.
He also wanted to open new opportun-
ities for people interested'in drama:
students, faculty, as well as local residents.
Acting with "minimums" has been one
of Lab Theatre's traditions. They operate
with few props, little money and, as
Lab Theater Co-producers Richard
Ussery and Ramona Hutton perfect a re-
cent Graham Memorial set.
their "Metamorphosis" illustrates, a
minimum of words.
Dr. Housman believes "non-verbal"
theater relates particularly to the more
action-oriented young. "This type of
theatrical communication doesn't depend
on beautiful words," he said.
One advantage to Lab Theatre's mini-
mum approach is using the bare neces-
sities to their maximum effect. "Directors
can't rely on material trappings to cover
up talents they don't have. It's making
the limitations work for you."
Except for notices in local calendars,
Laboratory Theatre does not advertise. A
particular audience has developed, ac-
cording to Dr. Housman, mostly the young
and those attracted to the theater by an
element of surprise. No telling what play
will be on, or how it will be acted. Another
attraction is free admission for the per-
formances held Thursdays and Fridays at
4 and 8 p.m. Ussery said room 06 in
Graham Memorial Hall, where most of
the performances take place, is "bursting
at the seams."
Some may come without knowing what
the play is, since each week there is a
new one. They may sit on the floor escorted
by members of the cast, or sit in straight-
The play may be a classic like "Hedda
Gabler" done in full costume in what
seems to be a formal Victorian setting.
(The effect of a formal living room was
accomplished by an oriental rug, an
antique victrola and a black crate which
passed for a love-seat).
Or it may be an original like "This
Bird of Dawning Singeth All Night Long,"
written by Philips Hays Dean. It was
the story of a black woman confronting a
The fmal fall production, "Steambath,"
was a surrealistic comedy by Bruce Jay
Friedman. Joseph Coleman, a graduate
student in drama, directed the play on
Dec. 5 and 6.
Many graduate students in dramatic
art like to work in Lab Theatre because it
gives them freedom to work out their own
ideas. They don't have to worry about
"Money can be corrupting," said John
Mezz, faculty advisor to Lab Theatre.
Ussery added, "Anytime there's a box
drama buffs something new,
office connected with a show, you're going
to have to compromise."
They have considered charging a 25 cent
admission fee, but Mezz maintains,
"There's something very exciting about
free theater. It's closer to the people."
Sometimes Ussery of Southern Pines
and fellow producer Ramona Hutton of
Wilmington, both dramatic art graduate
students, daydrel1m about all the gear
they could use--a fantastic light system,
But they are making it with a little
money and a lot of ingenuity. A special
feature of a recent show, Ussery said, was
the unique lighting accomplished by can-
dlelight, flashlight and light from a
neighboring parking lot.
"The Student Union has been very kind
in co-producing some of our shows,"
Ms. Hutton said. In January with funds
from the Student Government, Lab
Theatre will produce "Babes in Arms," a
musical whose royalties and scope were
beyond Lab's means.
That production will take place in
Memorial Hall, a cavern compared to
Lab's usual home in Graham Memorial
Hall, which was the old student union's
The Graham room, which holds 125 at
its maximum, allows for flexibility and
closer audience contact. Lab workers
prefer "theater-in-the-round" with the
stage surrounded in audience as opposed
to the proscenium of the Carolina Play-
Lab Theatre's makeshift approach can
be disarming. Mezz, who has watched it
grow out of its "Potluck" stage, said, "I
think some standards have begun to
be set. There's a huge range of quality
and nature of shows."
Spring promises more original work,
open to anyone who would like to audition
or write it. "We like original scripts,"
Ms. Hutton said.
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