The stage lights are back on at the Wertheim Performing Arts Center as FIU Theatre returns with its first live theatrical production since the pandemic began 18 months ago. Ray Bradbury’s classic dystopian tale, Fahrenheit 451, is now playing in the Main Stage theatre through Sunday, Oct. 3.
“We are thrilled to be doing what we love and sharing our work with a live audience once again,” says Joel Murray, chair and artistic director of FIU Theatre. “The time away has left us with a greater understanding of why our work is essential. Theatre drives connection, understanding, and empathy – things we sorely need now more than ever.”
Ray Bradbury wrote his original novel in 1953, at a time when only a select few households owned a television set. He foresaw a future where mankind was numbed with giant television screens while books, knowledge and original thought were outlawed.
"This play is about preserving knowledge,” says the play’s director, associate professor Phillip M. Church. “It shows us a society that has no books and therefore no way of refueling thoughts or ideas…those are against the law. Instead, people are given entire walls with television screens blasting programming 24/7 so that they don’t talk, don’t converse, don’t share ideas. All they do is feed on this information that is coming at them."
For Church, this production also marks an important milestone in his career. After 40 years and nearly 50 productions at the university, he announced that he will be retiring at the end of the academic year in the spring. Fahrenheit 451 will be the final play he directs in his storied tenure at FIU.
Although the production is his last one at the university, this production process has been one of rediscovery.
“It’s wonderful to be in the same room together again,” says Church. “We have all recognized the value of what we were possibly taking for granted before the pandemic arrived. Warmups, acting classes and rehearsals just took place in a room, and everybody was together and we never thought twice about it. And now, of course, the value of that in-person connection is right there in front of us.”
The process of putting together a play is a deeply collaborative one, requiring artists and technicians to work long hours to produce the seamless magic that the audience experiences. Since the beginning of the fall semester, the department has been a beehive of activity with students and faculty designing, building sets, welding steel, bolting truss, hanging lights, stitching costumes and rehearsing the play.
Ashley Scheer, a BFA design student and the show’s scenic designer, created a bare-bones set with scaffolding, truss and pieces that fly in.
“There are no solid walls on the set,” she says. “The play is about a society that has stripped away people’s right to their own thoughts. I wanted to have the scaffolding up there as a way to pull everything away and just have the bones left.”
While it is exciting to be back on stage, the department of theatre is doing so as safely as possible. Audience capacity has been reduced to 60% so that guests can spread out in the house and create some distance. FIU’s Covid Response Team will also be doing a deep clean of the theatre after every performance. Audience members are encouraged to wear masks while enjoying the show.
Fahrenheit 451 is now playing at the Wertheim Performing Arts Center through Oct. 3. For more information and to reserve your tickets, please visit FIU Theatre’s website.