University of Central Florida students are embracing the power of transformation as they prepare to make dramatic changes to their ages, speech and body movements for the upcoming Theatre UCF production of The Last Night of Ballyhoo.
The Last Night of Ballyhoo chronicles the story of an unconventional Jewish family in Atlanta in 1939. The play follows two 20-something cousins and their family as the cousins juggle school, suitors and the Atlanta premiere of “Gone With the Wind” while preparing for Ballyhoo, a lavish community dance for Jewish families.
The award-winning play was a hit on Broadway, but is rarely performed by university theatre departments because of the wide age range of its characters.
“It’s safe to assume that very often, good plays are not selected to be staged at UCF because of the concern that the characters are simply too old for students to play believably,” said director Tad Ingram.
In some instances, he said, older characters are played by faculty members or graduate students. But the audition process for the play identified a few talented young undergraduate students who he says trusted in their own acting abilities and accepted the challenge of playing older parts.
“In professional theatre, as well as university theatre, it takes a certain kind of actor to pull off playing a person older than himself or herself,” Ingram said. “I also think that it may take a certain kind of play to make such a stretch doable.”
Third-year Acting student Robert Svetlik plays Adolph, a curmudgeonly bachelor in his 40s who is an uncle to the cousins.
For the part, Svetlik takes on a mature Southern dialect, one he imagines someone of Adolph’s age and location might have spoken with. To master his character’s physicality, Svetlik looked to one of his professors for inspiration.
“I studied the way he walks and moves because I liked it and thought it matched with the character,” said Svetlik. “I watched how his arms moved and how he got from place to place, and then practiced in my apartment.”
Svetlik also has help aging his appearance. He grew facial hair for the part, and costumes, makeup and stage lighting help turn him from a 22-year-old into a middle-aged man.
Costumer Dan Jones is using body padding to alter Svetlik’s frame. The padding rounds his shoulders, creates a potbelly and adds bulk to his clothes.
“The costumes complete the transformation of that other world the actors are trying to get to,” Jones said.
Written by Alfred Uhry, The Last Night of Ballyhoo was commissioned for the 1996 Summer Olympics. The play was inspired by the playwright’s memories of growing up in Atlanta and is the second in Uhry’s “Atlanta Trilogy,” all set in the early 1900s. The first is the Driving Miss Daisy and the third is Parade, which Theatre UCF presented in 2008.
The Last Night of Ballyhoo will be performed on the Main Stage of the Performing Arts Center, room 107 of the Theatre building.
Performances will begin at 8 p.m. Jan. 19-21 and Jan. 26-28. Sunday matinees will begin at 2 p.m. on Jan. 22 and Jan. 29.
Ticket prices are $17 for the general public, $15 for seniors and $10 for students with IDs. Group discounts are available. Tickets can be purchased at the Box Office or by calling 407-823-1500.
To learn more about Theatre UCF, visit http://theatre.ucf.edu.