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story.lead_photo.caption Courtesy Photo Mikalyn Reif and Paige Lokey rehearse for the upcoming UAFS "immersive" theater experience.

There is nothing Bob Stevenson loves more than blasting through barriers -- not just the fourth wall that has traditionally separated actors from audience but anything else that might limit the theatrical experience.

Stevenson comes from a professional background in television, film and stage and was working out west when a former chancellor asked him to come start a drama program at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith. That was 17 years ago, and along the way, he's earned a reputation for cutting-edge theater.



2018-19 Season

Oct. 18-20 & 22-23 — “Mist and Shadows: An original immersive theatrical experience,” 7:30 p.m., Breedlove Auditorium on campus. Rated 14-plus for dark themes.

Feb. 14-16 & 18-19 — “Shakespeare in Love,” 7:30 p.m., Breedlove Auditorium. Rated 13-plus for adult comedy and drama.

April 25-27 — One-Act Play Showcase, 7:30 p.m., Breedlove Auditorium.

Series tickets are available as part of Season of Entertainment 38 by calling 788-7300.

"I'm sure many people know that one of our main missions, in addition to the quality education of young theater artists, is to help foster new work at the college level and provide new and innovative theater experiences for the community in Western Arkansas," says Stevenson, who is now head of the department of communication and theater arts at UAFS.

In the past few years, that's included everything from "Macbeth" reset in the world of boxing -- a way to make the play more relevant than the "geopolitical treatise it often becomes," he says -- to new and rarely seen scripts that have carried UAFS to the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival regional competition in five of the last 11 years.

"There are certain types of shows they have to do, but I don't want to just cookie-cutter churn them out," he says. So Stevenson doesn't plan to settle down this season either. He's opening with "a real treat for the audience, our first ever immersive theatrical experience, 'Mist and Shadows,' a new play created by our students and faculty."

"Immersive theater is one of the newest and most exciting forms of theater in the 21st century," he enthuses. "If you've ever done an escape room, then you understand an immersive experience -- haunted houses are also similar. What makes it theatrical is the addition of actors involved in bringing the story to life."

According to Stevenson, the "audience will move through the performance space instead of sitting -- similar to an escape room -- and be able to interact with the objects that are present to help uncover the secrets of the story that is being told. Actors will also move through the space and go about the lives of their characters, but may also pull audience members into the story.

"If you can imagine an escape room crossed with 'Lord of the Rings' with a good dash of suspense, then you'll be pretty close to 'Mist and Shadows.' It should be a scary, exciting and fun evening!"

Also on the schedule for the season is the stage adaptation of the 1998 Best Picture award winner, "Shakespeare in Love."

"This romantic comedy/drama tells the story of a young and poor William Shakespeare fighting against the odds to try and stay out of the poor house and produce a new play -- which will, of course, turn out to be 'Romeo and Juliet,'" Stevenson says. "But hi-jinks and mistaken identities occur along the way to provide a hilarious ride through the 1600s London theater scene.

"Something new and original, something older and perfected," he muses. "Sounds like a good season to me!"

NAN What's Up on 10/07/2018

Print Headline: Immersive Theater

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