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'How I Learned to Drive' pushes boundaries

January  20, 2012

Show times:

7:30 p.m. Jan. 27-28, Feb. 3-4
1:30 p.m. Jan. 29, Feb. 5

After the Jan. 29 performance, Adam Parboosingh, assistant professor of theatre arts, will offer a free post-show discussion of the integration of video projections into the theatre design process.

Buy tickets online or call the Augustana Ticket Office at (309) 794-7306.

Tickets: $11 public, $9 for seniors and students

Clockwise from upper left: Mike Schultz "teaching the boy to fish"; Robin Quinn and Mike Schulz "asking for the final night"; Uncle Peck (Mike Schulz)teaching Li'l Bit (Robin Quinn) how to drive, saying 'When you get behind the wheel, only you are in control of the outcome'"; and Jacqui Schmidt (left) and Amy Sanders as mother and grandmother arguing about who knows how to raise a daughter better. (Augustana Photo Bureau/Mark Marogil)

How I Learned to Drive is the second production in the Augustana Department of Theatre Arts' 2011-12 performance season, "Action & Consequence." The season will close this spring with the popular offbeat musical, Bat Boy.

How I Learned to Drive, written by Paula Vogel, tells the story of a young woman's complicated relationship with her uncle. The play premiered in 1997 and brought Vogel the Pulitzer Prize for drama one year later.

In this memory play, the main character, Li'l Bit, takes the audience on a journey conjuring up troubling events and people from her past, working to find answers to her life and a path for her future.

Dr. Jennifer Popple

Guest director Dr. Jennifer Popple has wanted to direct the play ever since it premiered. She believes this powerful tale about forgiveness of self and others has "a beautiful message about how we can let our pasts shape, but not completely define, who we are going to be."

Popple selected the play because it shines a light on something that is painful and devastating to a child, while showing a method for making one's way through it. "To do all of this and still be extremely funny much of the time is a difficult thing to do, but Vogel's play accomplishes all of this and more," she said.

Robin Quinn '13, who plays Li'l Bit, sees the play's raw approach to the complicated subject matter as a distinguishing element. "There's no ornamental 'fluff', just the truth as the characters see it," she said.

She is excited to see and hear the different reactions and impressions of the audience. "This is the kind of story that makes people think. You can't experience this show and leave without forming opinions and emotions, though sometimes the two will conflict. It's powerful that way."

Amy Sanders '12 has found it a unique experience to perform a range of characters in a play that doesn't follow a linear timeline, but rather "jumps around in Li'l Bit's mind-from memory to memory."

Leaving (and returning to) the comfort zone

The play's format and subject matter have added layers to the preparation process. "It has required a greater level of focus and awareness, especially regarding the show's tone and the ideas that are being portrayed to the audience," said Sean Serluco '12. He is intrigued by how the show pushes boundaries to bring each viewer outside his or her comfort zone.

To add depth to the characters and help tell this complicated story, the cast has followed the Chekhov technique-developed by actor Michael Chekhov, the nephew of playwright Anton Chekhov-which uses psychological gestures to stimulate movement. Jacquelyn Schmidt '12 said the Chekhov technique allowed her to find levels to her character that she wouldn't have, otherwise.

Alumnus and guest actor Mike Schulz '90 is thrilled about returning to Potter Hall after 22 years to play the role of Uncle Peck. "Ever since my freshman year at Augie, I've absolutely loved the comfort of that space, and the intimacy of it... To be able return and work on such an amazing piece of theatre is really an unbelievable pleasure."

Playwright Paula Vogel

Schulz works as the Arts and Calendar editor for the River Cities' Reader and is a member of the Curtainbox Theatre Company in Davenport. Curiously, ever since the work was written, Schulz has had actor friends suggest he play the role of Uncle Peck. "I'm a little worried about the vibe I may have been giving off to those friends, but it really is a dream role," he said.

"Peck really gives you the chance to stretch, or grow, some acting muscle. But truthfully, nothing about the 'Drive' experience, so far, has been as exciting as getting to work with director Jennifer Popple and these amazing students. Working on the show has really made me think about re-enrolling [in acting]."

Speaking for the students, Schmidt said it is exciting to be working with a professional actor, and believes Schulz's involvement "pushes all of us to be better and brings the production to a new level."