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A New Point of View: Matthew Schlerf ’16 Directs ‘Eurydice’

Savannah Deal as Euridyce
Savannah Deal '18 as Eurydice

The Theatre Department opens its spring Second Stage production of Eurydice on Feb. 17. In Eurydice, playwright Sarah Ruhl reimagines the classic myth of Orpheus through the eyes of its heroine. Dying too young on her wedding day, Eurydice journeys to the underworld, where she reunites with her father and struggles to remember her lost love.

So what's the elevator speech for this production of Ruhl's play?

"I'd say, imagine it's raining in this elevator...," mused director Matthew Schlerf '16.

"Eurydice is a story of mourning and how our love grows with longing. And as our desire to reconnect with the dead is irrational, so the world of Eurydice is fantastical, with talking stones and raining elevators."

To create two imaginary worlds in the black box of the Barber Theatre, Schlerf and company blended the world of the audience with the worlds of the play: they eschewed the traditional masking of stage theatre by incorporating the full architecture of the Barber in the scenic design, drawing on the talents of scenic designer Chris Timmons and lighting designer Neil Reda, who is the department's technical director/scenographer.

The approach calls heavily on imagination, and that is as it should be, said Schlerf. The journey to the underworld, like mourning itself, is about transformation more than transportation–shifting between states of being more than changes in space.

Eurydice's fall to the underworld is a fall into memory and imagination, he said. "We do that all the time when we mourn someone or love someone. We look for transformative ways to connect with those people."

When looking for transformative ways to express his artistic vision for Eurydice, Schlerf drew on everything he's learned to date as a Davidson theatre major, especially his work with Davidson theatre faculty Mark Sutch, Sharon Green and Ann Marie Costa. Schlerf, a John Montgomery Belk Scholar, also used scholarship stipends for theatre research trips to New York City. During summers of his Davidson career, Schlerf has studied at the Penumbra Theatre in Minneapolis, and last summer with international teaching-artists at La MaMa Umbria's International Symposium for Directors in Spoleto, Italy.

Matthew Schlerf
Matthew Schlerf '16 directs an imaginative interpretation of 'Eurydice.'

Now in directing his own cast of fellow students in Eurydice, Schlerf takes a collaborative approach using ensemble techniques such as Viewpoints, which he studied with director Tina Landau at La MaMa Umbria.

"I see my role as setting conditions for the play world–its feel, its arc, its rules–setting conditions for their exploration and reminding them of the framework along the way," he said.

Which is not a bad analogy for his four years at Davidson. From the start, Schlerf knew he wanted to explore language and human behavior. English. History. French. Theatre.

"I fell in love with the Theatre Department, in the same way I had fallen in love with Davidson College," he said.

The small size of the department makes for a rich academic and artistic interchange among students and faculty.

"That wealth of resources and wisdom is being shared with a small group of students," he said. "It's a microcosm of Davidson's liberal arts ethos. It's not a conservatory. I didn't feel pigeon-holed. I felt free to explore."

Performances of Eurydice are at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, Feb. 17-20; and at 2 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 21 in the Barber Theatre, Cunningham Theatre Center. Recommended for ages 12 and up. General admission: $12; seniors/military/faculty/staff: $10; students (K-college): $6. For tickets, please visit the Union Ticket Office or call 704-894-2135.