07/11/12 — ECU performers practice at Paramount

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ECU performers practice at Paramount

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on July 11, 2012 1:46 PM

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East Carolina University students rehearse a scene from "Collision Course" Tuesday at the Paramount Theatre. It was part of a director's master class that was open to the public.

Wayne County residents got a rare behind-the-scenes look at one of three productions that will soon take to the Paramount Theatre stage.

Students with East Carolina University School of Theatre and Dance are in town all week to perform for children and adults.

But those who turned out Tuesday night got a chance to see how the visionary behind their performance creates a production, director John Shearin.

Shearin, who had an 18-year career as a working actor-director in New York, Los Angeles, Boston and beyond, has appeared on TV shows including "Hunter," "Matlock," "Designing Women," "Dawson's Creek," "Little House on the Prairie," "American Gothic" and "Bret Maverick" and has produced more than 120 plays and musicals for ECU's Loessin Playhouse and Summer Theatre.

He has also directed 45 -- and acted in seven -- of them.

One of the plays his students will be performing at the Paramount is "Our Town."

And they will also do "Collision Course," a collage of plays from the 1960s by playwrights who were, at the time, considered avant-garde, but later became the leading playwrights of the next generation in American theater, Shearin said.

"We've combined it with music of the period -- some live and some recorded," he said. "We're also doing 'Seven in One Blow,' a contemporary take on the Grimms' fairytale about the old tailor who killed seven flies at one blow. He carves himself a belt that says 'seven with one blow' and everybody thinks he killed seven people."

Shearin said ECU's version is about a boy who kills the flies at lunch, then goes out on an adventure where he runs into all kinds of fantastic creatures -- ogres, witches and other magical beings.

"We took the basic script and made some modifications in some of the characterizations, which I think really help bring it more to life," Shearin said.

And, except for two ECU faculty members in "Our Town," the cast for all three plays is made up entirely of students, most of them advanced acting students, with some from other programs like musical theater and design and production.

Shearin said the students have had to restage each venue where the School of Theatre and Dance has performed, including the studio theater at ECU, Roanoke Island Festival Park and the theater at Tryon Palace.

Each of these venues has required major restaging and redesigning, he said.

But doing so, he added, will help the students in their future careers.

"The best experience I ever had in preparation for a career was when I was a graduate student and in a student company at Penn State," Shearin said. "We would travel the length and breadth of the state to the commonwealth campuses doing scenes and plays, all in repertory.

"Sometimes we'd get to places that had no theater. I remember restaging scenes from Romeo and Juliet on a fire escape. By the time I had done that for three years, there was absolutely no experience in the theater left that I could find intimidating."

And the same, he said, goes for the ECU students.

"It's good for them to learn that kind of flexibility and adaptability," Shearin said.

The students left Greenville Tuesday at 8:15 a.m. and didn't leave to go back to school until close to 10:30 p.m. Then they were back in Goldsboro the next day.

He described the Paramount as one of the best theaters the group has performed in.

Instrumental in bringing the ECU School of Theatre and Dance to Goldsboro was David Weil, president of the Paramount Foundation.

He said Goldsboro's had a long tradition of theater that goes back at least 130 years and that local people have been putting on amateur theatricals that long.

"I thought it would be helpful to some of those people involved in amateur directing to have someone whose life is as a professional director here to answer questions and show them some of the techniques he uses," Weil said about Tuesday's master class. "I've been trying for three years to establish a reciprocal arrangement with ECU to permit performances they do to come over here so that we could enjoy them at the Paramount. This is part of that arrangement."

Scheduled performances for the remainder of the week include:

* "Our Town" tonight at 6:30 p.m.

* "Collision Course" Thursday at 6:30 p.m.

* "Seven in One Blow" Friday at 10:30 a.m.

* "Our Town" Friday at 7 p.m.