The Gong Tree is a central element in the collaborative show, “Molded by the Flow,” opening Friday at the Dolard and Priscilla Gendron Franco Center.
Sara Valentine, right, a lecturer of theater at the University of Southern Maine, explains the Gong Tree as it relates to the art installation project “Molded By the Flow” on Tuesday. The collaborative creation is opening at the Dolard and Priscilla Gendron Franco Center in Lewiston on Friday.
Rinde Eckert, right, arranges a drop curtain on the floor that appears in multiple prop changes in the show, “Molded by the Flow.” Eckert is the director of the collaborative theater, dance music and visual arts production.
LEWISTON — Excitement filled the concert hall stage at the Dolard and Pricilla Gendron Franco Center early Tuesday evening as several dozen University of Southern Maine students put the finishing touches on a poetic, visual and musical narrative called “Molded by the Flow.”
The original production’s premiere is Friday night, with a second performance slated for Saturday. Both performances will be held at 7:30 p.m. Using many imaginative elements of art and theater, the production explores how the state’s rivers, ocean, weather, plants and animals inspired people to inhabit the area many years ago, and thereby shape the landscape and history of Maine.
“This is not a historical document,” said Sara Valentine, who represents USM departments of art, theater and school of music for this unique presentation. “It’s an abstract imagining.”
As the USM students worked on lighting the set, Valentine explained that this collaborative work continues to evolve as the participants see new or unexpected possibilities with the production taking shape.
A large projection screen fills the stage side to side and top to bottom. Valentine said back-projected images are used, and some live drawings are done in the course of the performance.
The staging emphasizes the industrial life of the local waterways. Two tall towers hold crates from which numerous props will be drawn relating to the character of the area and the various times.
Valentine explained several other pieces of stagecraft made specifically for “Molded by the Flow.” There’s a “gong tree” standing 6 to 7 feet high from which hang a number of specially constructed metal containers. The percussionist in the 11-member conductor’s ensemble for the show will make use of that unusual instrument.
Another original musical instrument is a giant steel string guitar. It’s built on the top of a heavy wooden crate that’s more than 6 feet long. Valentine said it’s strung in a manner that makes it possible for two or maybe three people to play at the same time.
The innards of an old piano also will be part of the music-making. Valentine showed how lightly strumming strings on the heavy, steep frame produces an “atmospheric” sound which suggests the flow of water.
The students are working under the direction of visiting professor Paul Dresher and performance artist Rinde Eckert.
Dresher pointed out how several wedge-shaped wooden boxes about 4 feet wide and 7 feet tall will be configured to represent several landscape formations. In upright position, they are the mountains from which the waterways begin the flow that molds the land and communities along their courses.
Placed another way, the shapes are gently sloping beaches.
“These shapes represent everywhere and somewhere,” Dresher said.
He pointed out that an objective of the production is to teach the art of collaboration.
“We hope it will trigger something that’s going to echo downstream,” he said.
“Molded by the Flow” is made possible by the Libra Professorship at USM, with additional support of the USM Gorham Cultural Affairs Committee.
Following the Lewiston premiere, “Molded by the Flow” will move to Russell Hall on the USM Gorham campus for performances at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 21; and at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, April 22 and 23. Additional performances will take place at Gorham at 5 p.m. Wednesday, April 26; 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 28; and 2 p.m. Saturday, April 29.
Tickets are $15 for adults, $11 for seniors, USM employees and alumni, and $8 for students. They may be purchased by phone at 207-780-5151.