November 28, 2016
Instead of providing students with a clear description for promotion of their next performance, UCCS theater students lured their audience in without giving out any information about their play.
Not until Nov. 16, when the UCCS Theater Company explored the chaos of being a college student in “The Box,” did the audience learn what the mysterious play was about.
The show was held at 11 p.m. in theater and dance program director Kevin Landis’s office located in University Hall. Around 60 students attended.
Roy Ballard, theater instructor and director of “The Box,” allowed the actors, who were unaware of the plot, to spread awareness of the play via word of mouth in an attempt to create mystery and spark curiosity.
Audience members sat in the hallway in front of Landis’s office to watch.
Two guards, also played by students, stood on either side of the office: one blocked the door while the other stood at the end of the hallway to prevent the three actors, theater majors Eleanor Sturt (Sturt works as the opinion and copy editor for The Scribe), Salvador Placensia and Brittany Merritt, from escaping from the office.
The actors interacted with audience members as they shouted and pounded on the windows and asked the audience to help them escape.
As the play progressed, the atmosphere went from lighthearted and silly to frantic and serious.
Some audience members became frustrated and confused. Freshman biomedical science major Christina Cleveland said that she was angry 20 minutes into the show.
“This is ridiculous. I’m not really sure what is going on. It’s getting loud with everyone screaming; I don’t know what the people in the room want from us,” said Cleveland.
“We obviously can’t get them out. I’m just feeling really helpless.”
At 11:30 p.m. the two guards taped pieces of printing paper to the windows, obstructing the audience’s view of the actors, but the screaming and pounding continued.
Half the audience wanted to tear the paper down each time the guards would tape it up, while the other half wanted to allow the actors to do their jobs in hopes of furthering the plot.
Junior theater major Eric Grosenbach stepped out of the hallway because he was irritated. Grosenbach said he was in favor of allowing the guards to finish taping paper to the windows.
“I’m just so frustrated with the audience’s refusal to be a bystander and preventing plot development. We haven’t gone ten seconds without intervening in the performance, and after 30 minutes, that has gotten us nowhere,” said Grosenbach.
“I think this is the purpose: how do people react to witnessing other people they can’t help and whether or not the audience can admit defeat? This is defying the art progression.”
Junior theater major Jareth Spirio was appalled at the idea of leaving his peers behind. Spirio related the play to the Nazi concentration camps.
“I feel like letting it happen is like repeating what was done in the past and what is being portrayed in recent media. The Nazis silenced their prisoners and would rather hide them away then face what they were doing to them,” Spirio said.
“I’m shocked at how quickly the majority of the audience jumped on board with letting this happen.”
Ballard removed some of the audience members to calm them down and remind them that for progression’s sake, the actors had to be allowed to play their roles.
Once the papers fully covered the windows, the hallway was silent. A few minutes later, holes were ripped in the paper, and audience members were encouraged to look in. Inside the office, Sturt, Placensia and Merritt were on their phones. A few minutes later, the actors walked out the office door without a word and left.
Ballard explained that the original purpose of the play was to depict his observations of college students.
“The three people in the box desperately wanted to escape college, but at any time the door was open and they could have walked out, but they didn’t. The guards represented censorship and the feeling of being held back by faculty and staff,” he said.
Originally, Ballard intended for the show to last for 30 minutes, but the actors stayed in character for over an hour.
The audience’s reaction to the papered windows was a representation how they felt about the 2016 general election, according to Ballard.