Last Wednesday, March 23, the University of Maine School of Performing Arts (SPA) presented “Mieke Rising,” a semi-staged reading as part of the Reader’s Theatre series.
Reader’s Theatre is a taste of a play — memorization of lines, costumes, special lighting and music are not needed. Performers hold the scripts in their hands, and read from them while sitting or standing up. The actor’s goal is to effectively read the script, allowing the audience to visualize what they hear. In order to bring the text alive, performers rely on their expressive voices and gestures.
“Mieke Rising” is a story of a high school student who is dealing with the loss of her loved one. While working on a history project on Sumerian civilization, Mieke Van Dam is reminded of her father who died in Iraq. Visual and written images of the ancient Sumerian myth of the goddess Inanna and her journey into the netherworld correlate with Mieke’s relationship with her family and her project teammates. Mieke’s interest in Inanna started with the sketches of the Sumerian artifacts that her father used to send her from Iraq. As she works on the project, Mieke starts to question whether using the research she did with her father is a betrayal or a tribute to his memory.
The play was written and directed by Carol Korty, professor emerita at Emerson College and a guest artist at UMaine. In 1991, Korty was asked to prepare a piece to present at Emerson’s study abroad program in Well, Netherlands. While on her three-day meditation retreat, Korty started coming up with ideas for her project involving going to a deeper place and dealing with death.
“My own father died when I was very young, so I always dealt with that hole. How do you continue when somebody is pulled out of your life? We all deal with that. I particularly wanted to focus on teenagers, to stimulate the conversation about it. It is not always from death, there is divorce, someone disappears, sometimes it happens that somebody is just gone; even happens when the person is physically there, but because of alcohol and drugs, is not spiritually there,” Korty shared.
Korty did not assign any names to the characters in the original version of “Mieke Rising.”
“A secretary of the castle we stayed in told me that Mieke is a very common Dutch name,” Korty said.
When she returned to Emerson, Korty presented “Mieke Rising” at the black box theatre in February 1993. The production was longer than the original, and incorporated music.
The original version presented to the Dutch audience included Native American rituals and songs.
“We wanted to take to Europe something that was truly American,” Korty shared.
When Korty was rewriting the script, she realized that she wanted to have more of Native American culture in it. However, when Korty met with people of indigenous tribes in northern Maine they asked her not to use their material. Despite the fact that Korty obtained Native American songs legally, she respected the tribe’s wishes.
“They told me that I do not understand what type of energies are released through these songs. It is their culture, and of course I honored this,” Korty said.
Korty set the play aside until five years ago when she rediscovered the script while sorting through her materials.
“I looked at this script again, and realized that I was not finished with this,” Korty shared.
Korty simplified the script, used fewer characters and focused the plot on dealing with the loss of a loved one.
Tom Mikotowicz, chair of the division of Theatre and Dance in the SPA, contacted Korty about Reader’s Theatre as she was working on rewriting her script. Having done Reader’s Theatre at UMaine before, Korty agreed to present “Mieke Rising,” however the call for auditions was put up when UMaine left for spring break. Therefore, an announcement about the play was spread to Bangor High School (BHS).
The character of Mieke was portrayed by Tessa Yardley, a BHS sophomore. Tessa Yardley, who is aspiring to be a screenwriter, enjoyed working with theatre professionals and college students. She also shared that she was able to relate to Mieke.
“I understood her [Mieke] as a character and could properly portray that. We always hear the loved ones in the back of our minds guiding us through hard times,” Tessa Yardley added.
This became a family project for Tessa Yardley, because her mother Rita Yardley was a stage director in “Mieke Rising.”
More than 30 people came to Minsky Hall last Wednesday to see “Mieke Rising.” Among the audience was a group of actors of upcoming Maine Masque show “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead.” The students took an evening off of rehearsals and came to support their friends.
“You want your work to be validated. While you are giving this performance, you have to keep in in mind that you are doing this for you, but it is always nice to hear the people clap in the end,” Lovejoy added.
This was Lovejoy’s first Reader’s Theatre experience. He shared that it resembled a play’s pre-production state.
“I enjoy seeing productions at their very beginning, at their most skeletal state when you just see the bare bones, hear the words, see the emotion and see the potential that it could have if it is to be worked on as a true production. If it makes it big, you can say you saw it when it was just beginning,” Lovejoy said.