Backstage with Mr. Burns

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By Lauren Jurgemeyer
Blog Content Contributor

In 1879, Thomas Edison invented the electric light bulb and since then the world has never been without electricity. Our whole world thrives on electricity; we have enjoyed countless advances in technology because of it. So, what if we didn’t have it anymore? What if we went back to a time without phones, computers, refrigerators– even the lamps we study by at night?

Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play explores these questions and exposes what it would be like to live in a world without electricity. Not only that, but to live in a world that has experienced an apocalyptic event and been decimated by nuclear radiation. The characters, to forget their struggles, find solace in pop culture– particularly, The Simpsons.

“This show on the surface can easily be mistaken for a goofy parody. However, it really is a story about human life,” said actress Julieanna Stolley.

The cast and crew were tasked with creating a post-electric world for the stage.

“It means working with a lot of materials and objects that get used in ways they were never intended to or to create new composite objects from said materials,” said Erin Kehr, properties master, when asked on the challenges of prop finding.

In addition to unusual props, the scenic design alone is a tremendous feat–all the set pieces are made of recyclable materials. The Act III set will be particularly extravagant with a false proscenium and a houseboat set; the set will be covered with recyclable items like water bottles, bubble wrap, and CDs–a startling conglomeration of visual details. Each item was specifically selected by size and by color to fit the design.

There are also musical elements to this show. Though the original score was by Michael Friedman the director, Isaac Byrne, decided to go a different route. Byrne enlisted the help of Ashleigh Stone, a Texas State alumni, to create a completely original thrilling score. Byrne told me that he was looking for a grand score and Stone delivered.

Michael Moody, an actor for the first two acts before he plays the drums in the third act, admitted that a lot of the research he did consisted of watching episodes of the Simpsons.

“One of our assistant directors is so amazing! She has been sending us out articles about what a nuclear meltdown would actually be like, what would actually happen and how damaging radiation can be,” said Moody.

He continued to tell me how he researched places like Chernobyl and the effect that radiation had on the environment.

Moody’s cast mate, Payton Mayfield, later told me, “We thought about going camping in the woods,” referencing the top of the show when the characters are sitting around a campfire. Moody laughed in agreement, exclaiming with enthusiasm that he still would like to go camping.  

When asked about what they hope the audience will take away from the show the pair fell silent in reflection.

“That art is important; that your tribe is important,” said Mayfield.

Moody nodded in agreement and then referenced his cast mate’s lines from Act III.

“Hope is everywhere,” Moody said. “In the end, things end up working out. So, things might not work out in the way that you think things will work out.”

Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play by Anne Washburn, directed by Isaac Byrne, opens on Oct. 2, 2018, at the Patti Strickel Harrison Theatre and runs through until the 7th. Tickets are available online or by phone at (512) 245-6500.

Featured image by Lauren Jurgemeyer.

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