by Brook Gardner-Durbin
Tom Watson has been involved in theater for most of his life. The MSU professor knew he wanted to be an actor from a young age, possibly as early as eight. ” Unwavering in his choice, Watson majored in theater at Idaho state, got his masters degree in scene design and lighting and spent time as a professional actor before moving to teaching theater and acting classes.
Starting April 3, MSU students will get a chance to see Watson’s latest production. The play “Our Town” was first written in 1938, but it remains one of the most popular and often produced plays in the world today. It has enjoyed a recent resurgence in popularity, including a 2003 broadway production starring the late Paul Newman. “I think there is probably a production of “Our Town” going on any day of the week, somewhere in the world,” said Watson.
Part of “Our Town’s” enduring appeal is its universal themes. The acts are titled, in order, “Daily Life,” “Love and Marriage” and “Death,” which gives some clue of the breadth of the play. The play follows two families over a number of decades, culminating in what has been called one of the most famous scenes in American theater.
Instead of using wigs and makeup alone to age the cast across the decades, the Pulitzer Prize-winning play features a number of members of the Bozeman community in addition to MSU students, with a cast ranging from 10 to 50 years old.
One of the most unusual features of the play is its lack of props. While most stage productions use fewer props than movies to make it easier to shift from one scene to another without pausing the action, “Our Town” uses almost no props at all. At times the actors will mime using doors, cupboards or other actions. “I think still, today, a modern audience finds it different in that way,” said Watson. Despite that, he was confident that “when you get to the end and discover what this play is about, it makes sense why [it was performed without props].”
The MSU version is also unusual in other ways: it uses slides to project scenery at times, while the original script has the stage manager (a performing character) simply tell the audience what to imagine. Other than minor details surrounding the updated technology since the play was written, the MSU production has remained faithful to the original script: “I think we’re sticking to the integrity of the script, but we have our own take,” said Watson.
“Our Town” is being performed at the Black Box Theater, at the corner of 11th Ave and Grant Ave, on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m., April 3 – 12. Tickets are $10 for students and $12 for general admission. Tickets are available at the First Interstate Bank in the SUB, the front desk of the Visual Communications Building or at the door.