Department of Theatre Arts closes 2018 season with Picnic

April 23, 2018

The creative process in the performing arts isn’t always a picnic, but for the Department of Theatre Arts at Bradley, the work is entirely worth it.

The Department of Theatre Arts closes its 2017-2018 season with the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Picnic,” a show about a drifter who disrupts the simple lives of a Kansas town as residents prepare for their annual Labor Day picnic. Written by William Inge, the show will be performed at the Hartmann Center.

As the show prepared for its mid-April opening, Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts and Director Daniel Matisa has worked hand-in-hand with the cast and crew to bring the contemporary classic to life.

“I’m really excited to give this to the Bradley community and the Peoria community, because this is a classic for a reason,” Matisa said. “We say all the time we’re all in the empathy business in theatre, so it’s sort of the actors’ job to empathize with the characters and not judge them.”

The 1953 play, having seen stages such as The Music Box Theatre in New York City and the the Belgrade Theatre in England, makes its way to Bradley’s stage with a dedicated group of creatives both on and off the stage. One such member is Noelle Mefford, who plays the female lead, Madge.

Mefford, a senior public relations major, was signed on as the female lead despite those roles typically being offered to theatre majors ­– a feat that is particularly rare.

“This production and role has meant so much to me because it’s one of the biggest roles I’ve had,” Mefford said. “I also really relate to my character’s journey through the play, so it’s been so rewarding to be able to play someone I relate to.”

While performers like Mefford typically find a cathartic joy to the performaning arts, the labors that go into such a feat are staggering. According to Mefford, her role as an actress was one of interpretation – something that she said brought her conflict in the creative process.

“For me, the biggest struggle in bringing this show together was really coming into my character,” she said. “I found it hard not to judge some of her actions, and so it prohibited me from really owning my character.”

The art of putting together a live show for a paying audience requires will and dedication, but Matisa, Mefford, the cast and crew carry out the labor of love with the hopes that the audience will step away entertained.

“I hope they walk away with an appreciation, first and foremost, of what a great playwright William Inge was, and how much he contributed, not only to American dramatic literature, but world dramatic literature,” Matisa said. “I hope they walk away being moved by the story, but also being entertained.”

“Picnic” opened in the Hartmann Center yesterday and will run through April 29. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sundays.

Tickets are $5 for students, $12 for faculty, staff and seniors and $15 for adults. For ticket info, call 309-677-2650, or go to www.bradley.edu/theatre.