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Interactive play links London to Mount de Sales

Time seems to change all manner of life except affairs of the heart.

It’s a very different world now than in 1775 when Johann Wolfgang von Goethe penned the play “Stella.” But the same emotions that inspired his play can still boil into passions today.

The modern love stories of Middle Georgians will mingle with tales from London next week in what’s billed as a radical adaptation of Goethe’s “Play for Lovers” at the Douglass Theatre on March 4.

Rachel Parish, who spent her elementary and high school years in Macon, solicited tales from ordinary folks in England and here. After listening to the recordings, she began collaborating with actors in London, where she now lives.

She set up a “StoryStation” with headsets and voice-activated microphones during October’s First Friday and also in locations around London.

“I love people’s stories and particularly the parts of stories they don’t say — what’s in between the things they say,” Parish said with a hint of a British accent.

After reviewing hundreds of remembrances of desire, family life and adventure, she has woven them into her current production.

Parish has rewritten her own life story since she left Mount de Sales Academy for the University of Georgia. She went to Athens looking for a career in mathematics and science but in her senior year fell in love with theater after studying philosophy abroad. Monday, she returned to her Macon high school campus as an accomplished theater director working in London.

“I’ve been in a lot of different worlds in London. It was really impressive how much of a background everybody had,” said the now 30-year-old, who recently came up with an idea. “Wouldn’t it be great if we can pull people from London with all this experience in theater and bring them (to Macon)?”

She recruited a troupe of four London actors who are now rehearsing “Stella” in Macon.

With an audience of about a dozen Mount de Sales drama students and two teams of young actors in England monitoring through live Internet links, actors Elizabeth Boag and Richard Maxted ran their lines on stage at the Zuver Center for Performing Arts.

Laptop computers perched on folding tables captured their moves for the European venues.

At the end of the scene, the teens from across the Atlantic and in the theater gave their ideas for improving the performance.

Mount de Sales student Mike Cantrell asked Boag about her mood.

“When he asks you if you’re all right you say, ‘No,’ but are you really having a bad day?”

Faatima Vasser thought Maxted should pause longer when he waits for his coffee.

“You were too nice the last time to be angry,” she observed.

After each critique, the actors tweaked their performance.

“That’s pretty clear to me how that scene built with everybody’s feedback,” Parish said at the end of the session. “Everybody’s comments built it, grew it and took it forward.”

Mount de Sales drama teacher John Freeman saw the workshop as a great opportunity for his students.

“They’re not used to process theater. They’re used to me directing them and telling them what to do,” Freeman said. “It’s a great thing for them to be able to go through and keep going back and working it through.”

Parish built her Firehouse Creative Productions company with this theater-by-community concept that engages people in retelling classic works.

She’s partnered with Diversity Assets in Georgia to produce the play.

“This initiative has everything to open up the creative process,” said Cameron Pennybacker of Diversity Assets. “Is this not a new twist for Macon?”

Pennybacker said Parish’s innovative directing approach fits right into his organization’s mission.

“There is much to be learned in opening up the process,” Parish said. “This type of transparency is something people are quite interested in in my work in London. It’s something we’ll be doing every year with a different set of stories and actors.”

She created a blog at firehouse.wordpress.com for the theatrical teens to continue their feedback and interaction with the production.

For Boag and Maxted, they find freedom in their ability to change dialogue and rewrite plots instead of strictly following the playwright’s interpretation or director’s mandate.

“Usually, actors arrive when the script is there, and now we have to build a character from scratch and then decide what they say,” Boag said.

“It’s ownership and trying to create something that’s interesting and real,” Maxted said.

Parish said she plans to have an intermittent presence in Macon with summer camps and future projects.

“You don’t usually build a play from the ground up, so what we are doing is different and cutting edge.”

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.

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