Marshall Theatre to present ‘The Arabian Nights’ starting Nov. 7

Marshall University’s Francis-Booth Experimental Theatre will transcend time and space this week as the Marshall Theatre Alliance puts on their performances of Mary Zimmerman’s award-winning adaptation of “The Arabian Nights.”

Performances begin Wednesday, Nov.7, and continue through Saturday, Nov. 10. They pick back up Thursday, Nov. 15, and go through Saturday, Nov. 17. All shows begin at 8 p.m.

Nicole Perrone, assistant professor of theatre at Marshall, said a play such as “The Arabian Nights” provides an invaluable learning opportunity for the students.

“In an educational theatre setting, we’re always looking for shows that will provide the right kinds of challenges for our students,” Perrone said. “This show relies on the strength of the ensemble—most of the 17-member company remains onstage throughout the performance.  Each actor sings, dances, plays a musical instrument and performs many roles.”

Perrone also mentioned the importance of costume and stage design for helping the audience believe they have left Huntington behind and, in this instance, traveled to Bagdad.

Nicole Peckens designed costumes for “The Arabian Nights” as part of her senior capstone project. Peckens started in the theatre industry at the age of 13 and came to Marshall with professional experience, but she said this production provided new challenges.

“I’ve been designing for about 12 years,” Peckens said. “I was an apprentice for four years, earning my stagehand certification. I also spent two years as an intern working as a designer and stitcher designing four shows a season and helping to build 15 shows per season. I am particularly proud of this design, not simply because it is my senior capstone, but because it provided me an opportunity to learn a great deal about a fascinating culture, and pushed me to new heights. I always believed costumes bring the last bit of life into a character.”

Perrone said music is also an important part in bringing the play to life for the audience. They used the lyrics provided by the playwright, but it was a Marshall student that provided the sounds.

“Emily Pritchard composed all original melodies, accompaniment and underscoring,” Perrone said. “There is also a tremendous amount of dance and movement, which the students and I crafted together. This show is performed ‘in the round,’ meaning the audience will be seated on all sides of the playing space.  This gives the show an intimate feel and enables the audience to be very close to the action. For the students, however, it has been a unique challenge. Being aware of your entire space, not just the space in front of you becomes extremely important.”

This is the first production for which Pritchard has composed the music and she said it has been a nerve-racking, but fun experience.

“This is my favorite show I’ve done,” Pritchard said. “When I got the script, I went through the whole thing and marked any place music was noted in the script. My father is a music teacher back home and he let me borrow some of his authentic instruments and even helped compose some songs.”

Pritchard said the audience may only see the show for a couple of hours, but it takes her hours just to create one song.

“It usually took me around two hours to compose one song that I liked,” Pritchard said.

Perrone said she looks forward to seeing the combination of costumes, music and acting on opening night. She also said parents should be aware the production may not be appropriate for young children, as Zimmerman made a point of choosing the funniest and saddest, yet most erotic, of the “Thousand and One Nights” stories. She said it is a tribute to the art of storytelling and the audience will be surprised by how many places the story can take them.