Focusing on dynamic, relevant storytelling in an intimate setting, The Drama Studio brings classic stories to life in original ways.
Its current production is a modern retelling of the classic story of Rapunzel. “How the Bird Flies” explores the tension between generations, self-empowerment, and family trauma.
The show, written and directed by The Drama Studio artistic director Debra Rice Endris, runs March 15 through 17 at the St. Genesius Theatre in Clarksville.
The Drama Studio was founded in 2005 within the Southern Indiana School for the Arts, also run by Rice Endris since the late 1980s. They staged large productions, such as “Godspell,” “Legally Blonde The Musical,” “Frankenstein” and “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” along with student productions.
The exhausting schedule took a toll and the drama troupe decided to take a break in 2014.
“With the school and The Drama Studio, we were doing 10 shows a year. It tends to get a life of its own,” Rice Endris said. “We decided to take a step back and said we’ll be back when we have something new to say. Here we are.”
While deciding what approach to take with the renewed venture, Rice Endris said “we kept coming back to classic stories; the old fairy tales, classic literature. They were relevant in their time and they’re still relevant today.”
The Drama Studio now takes the “story theater”’ approach to their performances, characterized by the use of simple scenery, such as a few items arranged to evoke a setting, and simple props and costumes.
“It’s very minimalist,” said Rice Endris. “It’s suggestive, immersive. Our house is very intimate [seating only 90]. We want our audience to feel part of the show.”
Following their four-year hiatus, The Drama Studio rebooted in late 2018 with a performance of “Snow Queen,” based on the classic Dutch fairy tale.
Southern Indiana is home to a number of theaters, from professional to community and high school.
“It is really a very special thing we have in this community,” said Grace Robertson, The Drama Studio’s assistant director. “There is a hunger in the community for theater. We can find a different niche. It’s allowed because other people are filling other needs.”
Presented in one act, “How the Bird Flies” stars Hannah Lithgow as Rachel; Cristina Mullins Brown as her mother, Gerri; Rita Hight as her grandmother, Mara; and Grace Robertson as Jo.
Hight has worked with the Hayswood Theatre in Corydon as a performer and board member for years. The Drama Studio “is unique,” she said. “It’s a very creative experience. A lot of plays the community does are done over and over. A new play lets you develop a character using your intellect and your experience.”
“It’s also a little intimidating,” said Mullins Brown. “No one has ever played this character before. There’s no safety net to fall back on.”
While based on a children’s story, “How the Bird Flies” is aimed at more mature audiences. “I’d say 13 and up,” Rice Endris said. “There’s nothing inappropriate in it, but it is deep. It’s yin and yang, joy and suffering.
“Every character is relatable. It’s someone you know, or it’s you at different points in life. It’s a play about relationships, the times, the dysfunctions.”
“The audience gets to dig deep,” Lithgow said. “You get to just sit there and think. Some people don’t want to do that. It really makes you ponder.”