‘Ape/Essence’ honored at festival

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LAUREN SOVISKY
staff writer

From Gannon’s main stage, across the pond to Scotland and now to Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP), Gannon University’s Schuster Theatre troupe will perform “Ape/Essence” once again.
For the first time in over 20 years, Gannon students will take the stage at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival Region 2 (KCACTF).
The festival, which will take place on Saturday at the campus of IUP, features invited productions from theater programs at colleges and universities throughout Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware and Washington, D.C.
While in past years, the Schuster Theatre’s Stage Fright original works were invited to be a part of the KCACTF, this is the first full-festival production invitation Gannon has received in more than two decades.
In addition to performing “Ape/Essence,” several students were also invited to compete in the Irene Ryan Acting competition.
“Ape/Essence,” based on Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel “Ape and Essence,” is a devised piece created by its student performers, the Rev. Shawn Clerkin and Director Alaina Manchester.
This production, which began as a Schuster main-stage production in the spring of 2017, flew overseas and received rave reviews during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, for its high energy and unique apocalyptic storyline.
Eleven students and two alumni, Allie Leng and Tom Barton, will be involved in the show’s IUP performance.
Barton, who was part of the original cast of “Ape/Essence” when the show was first presented at Gannon and in Scotland, has since graduated and is working full time in Pittsburgh.
“I’m graduated, but still get to do what I love: acting at Gannon,” Barton said. “Never in a million years would I have expected this show, which we helped to create, to become such a hit.”
Zach Hyman, a senior theatre communication arts student, expressed how easy it was to get back into the show again.
“The show is always evolving and changing, so letting it die and then bringing it back is pretty much the same process as before,” said Hyman, recalling much of the process it took to create the show.
Hyman said that Manchester often told the cast, “nothing is precious,” meaning that any idea in a devised piece could change to make the storyline more concrete or the overall context easier to understand.
“The current events and political climate that we first wrote the show in are now sort of shifted,” said Hyman, noting that there are still changes happening, though small, to the production.
The students have spent the past two weekends practicing for their performance at IUP, as well as opening the show up for one last Erie performance at DramaShop on Saturday.
Seamus Clerkin, sophomore education major, said he is excited to share this show with a new audience.
“Luckily, it’s still fresh in our minds,” Clerkin said. “I do enjoy the show, and performing it this past year makes it all that more special to me.”
While at the festival, students will also have the opportunity to participate in more than 60 workshops in performance, writing, design and production during the five-day event.
So Gannon family and friends can stay connected with the cast members’ experience, they will be filming their live performance on Facebook, which can be viewed on Saturday by liking Gannon University’s Schuster Theatre on Facebook and Instagram, or following alphapsiomegakb on Twitter and Instagram.

LAUREN SOVISKY

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