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“Bare” presented stronger message than performance

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The lights dim, and the excited audience fills almost every seat in the hall.  A hush settles over the crowd as actors make their way onto the dark stage.

The stage lights suddenly flare; the play begins, and the audience is whisked into a heady miasma of romance, drugs, sex and rebellion.

From Nov. 11 to Nov. 14, Drake University Theatre presented “Bare,” directed and choreographed by Karla Kash, assistant professor of theatre. The show was held in the Performing Arts Hall and boasted an overall talented cast of 27 Drake students.

Written by Jon Hartmere and Damon Intrabartolo, “Bare” debuted in Los Angeles in 2000. The musical follows the tribulations of a group of teens at Catholic boarding school and emphasizes the personal struggle of two homosexual boys amidst conservative social norms.

“Bare” tells a story of forbidden love. But the show also does something else: It addresses the stigma that often surrounds homosexuality, while connecting this stigma to teenage rebellion.

And this message is pressing in light of the recent teenage suicides due to harassment about sexuality.

“Since beginning rehearsals in late September, there have been seven reported deaths of teenagers from suicide–all of whom ended their own lives after enduring harsh bullying,” Kash wrote in the director’s note. “LGBT adolescences rejected by their families for their sexual orientation are nearly more than 10 times more likely to report having attempted suicide.”

The two main characters of “Bare,” Jason and Peter, address this struggle in different ways.

Jason, played by Kent Reynolds, attempts to mask his sexuality. Outwardly, he is the school heartthrob, popular among friends and lands the lead in the school production of “Romeo and Juliet.”  But inwardly, he deeply fears the criticism of his absent parents.

Peter, played by Eric Ferring, faces pressure from his mother to be “normal,” in addition to fears of sinning under Catholicism. In his imagination of his mother’s reaction to his sexuality, his mother laments, “I sent him to Catholic boarding school to straighten him out…now all I’ll get are ambiguous Christmas cards from South Beach.”

And not unlike Romeo and Juliet, these two boys become the star-crossed lovers of “Bare.” They become entangled in a web of deceit and betrayal, as they face judgment by their peers, their families and–most threatening–their faith.

In the beginning of the play, Jason and Peter admit they are in love, although Jason is adamant their feelings remain secret. Unbeknownst to the lovers, one of their friends, Matt, played by Matt Haupert, comes across the two in a passionate kiss.

Although Matt tells no one, suspicion begins to grow as Peter demands they open up about their relationship–and about their sexuality. He plans to tell his mother the truth over spring break, and he asks Jason to be there.
Later, a drunk Ivy (Sarah Hoch) comes on to Jason after her birthday party.  In an apparent lapse of judgment combined with the desire to fit in, Jason sleeps with Ivy. The curtain closes on the first act with Peter and Matt betrayed, and the four lovers in an unusually tangled love triangle.

Despite the semblance of drama, Act 1 of the show moved slowly, mostly characterized by distracting–albeit energetic–dancing and sarcastic digs at Catholicism.

Although the choreography was well executed, the stomping and jumping moves overcame the vocals. The ensemble caused a similar problem: they over-sang the leads in multiple scenes.

And while Ferring deserves enormous credit for his apt portrayal of Peter–an undoubtedly challenging character to master–his vocals were consistently under pitch during most of Act 1. While he successfully conveyed the struggle Peter experienced through his acting, he was unable to do the same when singing.

Thankfully, Act 2 provided a reprieve from these problems.

There was very little choreography in Act 2, eliminating the noise pollution. The tension between Jason, Peter, Matt and Ivy finally heightened the drama to a captivating level.

Ferring and Reynolds both fell into place as Peter and Jason. Their solos and duets improved immensely. Their relationship grew more palpable and their conflicts more realistic; their internal and external conflicts were more relatable.

Hoch and Emily Draffen, as Ivy and Nadia, were both excellent throughout. Draffen played Jason’s sister and a social outcast. She acted the part perfectly, and her vocal performance was one of the best in the show.

The love-hate relationship between Nadia and Ivy added much-needed comic relief to the show, and Hoch’s clear, beautiful voice gave her portrayal of Ivy an innocence that contrasted her outward promiscuity.

And how did the audience react to this controversial show?

The audience laughed along with the characters, and their reaction was good. They cheered and clapped after solos and ensemble pieces and gave the cast a standing ovation at Saturday’s performance.

And this was the reaction Danielle Dolezal, one of two student assistant directors, expected.

“The songs are catchy, the acting is great and the story material itself is very important for anyone to see, no matter what you believe,” she said. “It shows you things that people might not actually think of, especially in light of the gay suicides that happened recently.”

And “Bare” did just that. The vocal and technical issues were overshadowed by the message the characters presented.  The show was poignant yet radical and unabashedly proclaimed to hundreds of audience members that love knows no gender.

Photo courtesy of the Drake Theater Department

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7 Comments

  1. MUSIC MAJOR November 15, 2010

    I happen to be a vocal performance major at Drake and I vehemently disagree with this reporter’s look at Bare, especially Eric Ferring’s performance. I thought the ensemble numbers were executed with wonderful vocal technique, despite energetic dance steps. Eric Ferring, a first year nonetheless, sung from his soul and at no point was he “flat” but maybe a trained musical ear hears (and sings?) “flat” differently than a lay person. If you want to talk about problems; although Sierra White plays the part of sassy black woman to the T, most words were lost by poor diction and microphone issues. Or maybe the audience members who came, knowing what they were in for, and still left saying things like “did they really have to kiss?” I was proud a member of the theater and music department last weekend, but as a Drake student, I would have to say I’m disappointed.

  2. A Different Music Major November 16, 2010

    In the past few days, I’ve heard a lot of discussion in the music building about this article’s evaluation of Bare. Unfortunately for the article, the reaction by musicians involved with the performance and their friends are blinded to the realities of the performance. The vocals of the show were certainly inferior to the choreography and acting of the show, though aspects of the acting seemed forced (such as the relationship between the two main characters). As to the flatness of Eric Ferring-sorry people. He was sometimes flat and under-singing as a result of illness. I will absolutely give him credit for performing the show on vocal steroids with bronchitis, but the reality is that the musical performances leave something to be desired (and the focus shouldn’t just be placed on Eric-when 4 of 5 of your leads are taking vocal steroids during run-week, something is wrong with the production).
    Even though the author of this article isn’t a music major, that doesn’t mean she hasn’t had musical experience. It also doesn’t mean her view of the show is any less significant than other audience members, regardless of if others are music majors or not. Each person has their own opinion and are entitled to express it-people need to learn to deal with that fact.

  3. Angry... November 16, 2010

    So… I understand that the writer has her opinion and I fully am in love with the first amendment, but there’s a place for an opinion, and Features is not it. These students worked SO hard on this production and the Times Delphic is not in charge of critiquing it. Ms. Young should feel so ashamed to say that one of the main characters, who is a first year, an incredible singer, and who had been singing all weekend,was a little pitchy!! This article is so inappropriate. Features is to feature the production, not point out every little thing that may have been a little bit off. This is a horrible article, bashing fellow students, who put their heart and soul into something, only to open the newspaper on Monday morning, and find that this writer tore them apart. The dancing was too loud, the ensemble was too loud, the first act was boring… and it goes on and on. It is not the writers place to say those things!!! Features is supposed to be unbiased and this article had more opinion than Young’s actual opinion piece! Ms. Young should be very ashamed of publishing this, knowing how many people she offended, especially the actors who worked so hard!!

  4. A 3rd Music Major November 17, 2010

    I am going to make this short and sweet. I was absolutely impressed with the production of Bare, as was almost every other person I talked to. Anyone who came in with an open mind and was willing to be vulnerable as an audience member, was affected in a positive way. If you come into a show such as this as a critic, or a close-minded conservative, then of course you are going to hate, dislike, and/or rip the show apart.

    I will admit that there were major microphone issues. Maybe that is something you should have mentioned more in your article Ms. Young. That is not anything to blame on loud dance steps, or “faulty” leads. That is to blame on having an inadequate space for theatre and having equipment that is damaged and out dated.

    As for Mr. Ferring, you are blatantly incorrect. I must agree that you have absolutely no credentials to critique vocal technique. I personally know Eric, and know that there is no one that can sing that part better than he did here, if anywhere in the Midwest. If you aren’t a music major, you have no idea the range, training, and talent it takes to perform a role such as Peter. I had the joy of being at the show all four nights and know for a fact that he was not what you deemed “flat.” If by “flat” you mean to say a strong, pop belt with beautiful legato singing that is deeply supported then yes, you would be correct. Oddly enough if you happened to look on the page before your outrageous article, you will see how Eric won NATS (National Association of Teachers of Singing Competition) the weekend before. No matter if Eric was on vocal steroids or not, it was obvious that it didn’t affect his, or any of the other leads’ performances mentioned in one of the comments above.

    You had no right to publish this and you owe the director Karla Kash, music director Leanne Freeman-Miller and Eric Ferring all personal apologies. You have disgraced yourself, the Times Delphic, the journalism department, and all of the people in the cast/crew of Bare.

    I hope you find pride in your sad writing which was not a critique. It was simply an attack on a talented first year student in response to the talent that you obviously lack.

  5. Music Major 4 November 17, 2010

    1. This article does not damn every aspect of the performance, as it seems the majority of the above discussion suggests. For those who disagree with the article, was the performance perfect? If you say it was, you have absolutely no right to throw around your title of Music Major.
    2. The article should not have been included in the Features section of the paper due to its opinion on how the performance went. This is journalistic error. However, I have a feeling the piece would still attract the same response regardless of what section of the Times-Delphic it was published in.
    3. This is just a guess, but I don’t believe the article is calling Eric Ferring a bad singer or performer. She has merely pointed out that, by her ear, he was under pitch at times. Being a music major better qualifies you to do many things, such as comment upon the technique used by a performer, but pitch is a relatively universal concept. In fact, I know plenty of fellow musicians/music majors who have difficulty maintaining accurate pitch in ensembles (both instrumental and voice), both at Drake and abroad. In the case of this performance, I agree with the author’s assessment-Eric was flat (though not all of the time). Does this mean his performance as a musician or actor was bad? No-there were plenty of fantastic theatrical and musical moments which occurred due to Eric’s performance. However, his performance wasn’t perfect, and we shouldn’t expect it to be perfect. As it’s been mentioned, he’s a freshman in college singing a role which even professional performers struggle with. Don’t be so quick to judge an article which intends to show this fact.
    4. As for the vocal production used in the show, there were problems. Words were affected when they didn’t need to be. Vocals overall sounded strained, a fact strongly evidenced by the performer’s when you heard them individually in ensemble numbers. At times, the production was plain scratchy, and proper “pop-belting” was not occurring. Furthermore, production issues are evidenced by the fact so many people in the show were on vocal steroids, especially leads.
    5. There were major technical issues which helped to hinder the show. The further backstage the performer, the more likely they were off-pitch. The placement of monitors prevented singers from accurately hearing entrance cues as well as pitch, a problem further complicated by the set on stage. These issues certainly contributed to musical issues as described by the author and those above. Were these issues avoidable? With different placement of monitors, maybe.
    6. All I’ve heard is discussion over the critique of the lead. Nobody has discussed the positive elements discussed by the author, such as her praise of the show’s message and individuals like Sarah Hoch and Emily Draffen. This is representative of the way our society functions; we are quick to judge and respond harshly and over-enthusiastically to criticism of any kind. In fact, we focus on the negative. I’m sure Eric Ferring may not agree with the article, but does this mean he hates the article or its author? My guess is no. My guess is that he has taken the criticisms in stride with the positive accolades he surely received from friends and audience members. If this is the case, Eric already understands one of the most important aspects of show-business: not everybody is going to like what you do, and sometimes they do so with good reason; regardless of which is the case, you can either use these criticisms to improve yourself or let them dictate your behavior in a negative way, like the posts in this thread. Bottom-Line: Grow up people.

  6. Music Major 5 November 19, 2010

    While I do believe that any writer has the right to publish their opinions, I don’t think they should point out things they know nothing about. Hearing pitch accuracy takes years of training and is not easily heard by the everyday music listener. Also, you should not question balance issues because the point of the chorus singing at the same time as the soloists is for texture and overall effect, not clarity.

  7. Musical Theatre Major November 24, 2010

    Yes, this story was improperly labeled a feature story, but it obviously was a review. The Times-Delphic printed a correction in their next issue. And the Times-Delphic, as a newspaper covering campus related activities, has the right to publish a review.

    As a review, even at the college level, the reviewer has EVERY right to comment on what she or he saw in the production. In no way do I think Ms. Young owes anyone an apology–she was doing her job. In fact I commend Ms. Young for being so bold as to actually voice her opinion on our show.

    As a musical theatre major at Drake, I think it is important for us as students to be built up, but we also need to become accustomed to criticism.

    I find it incredibly interesting that some people thought Ms. Young was bashing fellow students or even tore them apart. On the whole, she obviously enjoyed the show, saying the show
    “boasted an overall talented cast of 27 Drake students.”

    I’m sorry if you were offended by Ms. Young’s thoughts, but wrong or right that’s all they were–her thoughts. Journalists will be offering their thoughts on productions outside of Drake for many years to come, so we might as well accept them here as well.

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