The University of Northern Colorado opens their 2020 spring theatre season with the haunting and twisted “The House of Bernarda Alba”, directed by Professor Mary Schuttler.
Bernarda Alba, the matriarch of a family of five daughters, has been recently widowed and decides the entire family will enter an eight year period of cloistered mourning. Throughout this period, her daughters struggle to find their own way while being torn between living in terror of their mother and yearning for a romantic love of their own.
Nina Perry, a UNC senior acting major, had a very specific preparation to embody the tyrannical Bernarda.
“My preparation involved a lot of play and always bringing new ideas to the table,” Perry said. “Of course, research for the role is essential but finding ways to possess that research into Bernarda’s reality was key. I found the given circumstances (location, age, and relationships) of Bernarda and looked at how they differ from mine. Having this knowledge, I know that I am not in real life Bernarda but I can tell her story.”
For Maddie Sheaffer, a UNC sophomore musical theatre major and a member of the female ensemble, being able to work with this cast made the experience all the more exciting.
“It has been amazing working with so many talented women and telling this incredible story,” Sheaffer said. “The energy and support we give and receive from each other has made this show so rewarding to work on.”
She touched on the seriousness of the piece and how to stay as authentic and present as possible.
“When doing a show as serious as this it is always important to remember the importance of the piece,” Sheaffer said. “It is a story that we are telling and I think it’s our job to tell it as truthfully as possible.”
“The House Bernarda Alba” is an entire cast of women, which created an environment of love, strength and support as well as highlighting the strength of females in the arts. For director Mary Schuttler, this was an imperative story to present.
“The simple truth is, despite the fact that women today are fighting to be treated fairly and with respect, we are still struggling to reach this goal,” Schuttler said. “What we have learned from the past has sometimes been reinforced instead of challenged, and ultimately, changed. In addition, some women today reject their own. This play shows us ‘the worst that can happen’ if we do not continue to fight against oppression from all forces. We also wanted to honor the artistic feel of 1930’s Spain while reflecting the broken, isolated world of the Alba family. The mourners in the production represent women through time and place, who continue to experience the ghosts of the past, while you, the audience, are invited to spy on the Alba family from a safe distance.”
What many audience members may not know is that “The House of Bernarda Alba” is about Spanish playwright Federico Garcia Lorca’s own life and history. For dramaturg Shelbie Reynolds, she had the job of researching the show and the time period, as well as answering any questions the cast had about how their character tied into the sense of the era.
“Lorca was a man with fire and radical ideas, and unfortunately these ideas along with his rumored sexuality, lead to his untimely assassination by the Spanish Government during the time of the Spanish Civil War,” said Reynolds, a junior theatre education major.
His death occurred only four months into working on the original production of ”The House of Bernarda Alba.”
Reynold’s research started back in December and continued throughout the rehearsal process.
“I included other facts for the cast about mannerisms and ideals that were important in Spain within the 1930’s,” Reynolds said. “Preparing for this, I read the play starting in December and through the beginning of the year, researching details about the playwright, the play, the setting, and era.”
When it comes to the character of Bernarda, Reynolds did plenty of research on the titular role.
“Bernarda’s character embodies an individual who demeans the level of authenticity of basic human rights; what she has learned from men, her mother, and her grandmother, she has passed along to her daughters,” Reynolds said. “She reinforces the stigma of gender inequality and tries to coerce her daughters to deny their natural desires, and follow suit.”
Many cast and creative team members of “The House of Bernarda Alba” spoke to the impact of this production and why people should attend.
“In one word it’s powerful,” Perry said. “It’s so powerful because all these women on stage tell a story of women, past and present.”
Although the play is a historical piece, it still has a layer of depth in the world of today.
“People should come see this show because, even though it was written in the 1920’s, it still discusses topics that are relevant to today’s society,” Sheaffer said.
For Reynolds, it all comes back to the heart of storytelling: Its impact.
“I think there’s always something to find in a piece of art,” Reynolds said. “I mean that is the point of theatre; to take away something from a production, even if you’re going to see a show as ‘just a piece of art’, there’s always something to be taken away. That was also extremely important to Federico García Lorca, and the basis of his creative intellect. I’d love for you to come see it, to see what you can take away, and be able to see the incredible women we have in our programs across the School of Theatre Arts & Dance.”
“The House of Bernarda Alba” opened Feb. 13 and runs through Feb. 23.