Inspired by Rainer Maria Rilke’s collection of poetry, “The Book of Hours,” Charlie Pepiton of the theatre and dance department hopes to provoke others with his own favorite novel.
Rilke started writing his collection of poems in 1899, when he was about 23 years old.
“He wrote it after a time of real existential crisis,” Pepiton said. “He was coming to a time when he had to claim what it is that he believes for himself as he was sort of coming to age and reacting against the faith that he was brought up with and the understanding of the divine. ‘The Book of Hours’ is his, in a sense, stream of consciousness as he’s coming to terms with those questions.”
Pepiton has read and reread the “The Book of Hours” multiple times since first reading the book in high school.
“I’ve read and loved these poems and struggled with these poems since I was 18 and I’ve always wanted to do something with them, because they’ve always been sort of moving and thought provoking,” Pepiton said.
Pepiton was curious about the novel’s questioning of the traditional understanding of divinity. That interest led to his desire to turn it into a stage production — specifically a devised production, which is one in which the creative process does not stem from just one writer, but rather a collaborative group of people.
“The group of actors, directors and designers all come together with a nontheatrical text, and then work together to create a piece of theater from it,” Pepiton said. “I started last night with a group of students, and we’re going to be working over the course of this semester and early next semester.”
Nine students participated in an exhaustive audition process and workshop to be able to work with Pepiton on their original production of “The Book of Hours.”
“I think in working with nine students with nine different perspectives and backgrounds, the poetry and expression of them will necessarily change … I hope they do,” Pepiton said.
As devised theatre is coming to fruition in the United States and gaining popularity, students and faculty involved can expect an adventure unlike any other theater experience.
“I hope [the students] learn to be creators,” Pepiton said. “Too often actors are taught to just be obedient and sort of stand and do as they’re told. What I hope that these actors will learn is to not only be interpreters and not only performers, but to be real, creative artists through the process.”
Though he’s not entirely certain what direction the play will take, Pepiton believes that the themes present in Rilke’s “The Book of Hours” are still relevant today.
“Just last Friday, I was reading it aloud, trying to experience it in a new way and images from the migrant crisis in Turkey started coming on the screen, and I was just letting things go,” Pepiton said. “It’s amazing how relevant the poetry is to our modern times.”
Additionally, the devised crew hopes that the audience will experience more than just any stage production.
“It’s going to be one part theater, one part dance, one part [an] installation immersive art event,” Pepiton said.
Rehearsals for the production of “The Book of Hours” began last week, and run throughout the entire semester. Rehearsals are in four phases, the first being a training process in which students will work with Pepiton. The second phase is exploring the text itself. The third phase is the composition phase, where students will take what is explored and put it into a theatrical frame. The final phase is the rehearsal in preparation for the audience.
“It’s a long process,” Pepiton said. “Devising is all about an interrogation, [and] you have to have that pressure at the end. You have to know that’s the target, because without it, you could create for years, something has to be your end point. It’s exciting. I love working this way.”
The selected students and Pepiton have begun the lengthy course of action of their devised process, and they are looking forward to seeing what sort of product they create.
“I like that the group has complete creative control over the outcome and I’m really excited to see where the creative process takes us,” said senior Briar Burt.
“The Book of Hours” will play the first two weekends of February in the Magnuson.