Contact: David W. Booth / Cora Vasseur, NIU School of Theatre and Dance
March 14, 2007
DeKalb — Northern Illinois University School of Theatre and Dance faculty member Dr. Patricia Ridge wants everyone to know what it is like to be a combat soldier.
She will direct the school’s theatrical production of John DiFusco’s memory play about the Vietnam War, “Tracers,” in the Players Theatre on the DeKalb campus from March 29 through April 15.
Ridge would especially like college students to see the play in order to put the Iraq war in historical perspective. She believes that there are striking parallels between the Vietnam War and the Iraq War.
“We look at the Iraq War and [see] we haven’t learned anything,” Ridge says, “except we need to always support the troops.”
Ridge is particularly sensitive to this aspect of any war’s aftermath, because her brother was spat upon when he returned home from fighting in Vietnam. As a result, she is dedicating the play to veterans who returned from the Vietnam War, and by doing so, hopes to thank them for their service.
Ridge also explains that “Tracers,” although set in Vietnam, shows what any war does to human beings, and to make that very clear, pain-staking efforts are being made to recreate what Vietnam combat soldiers experienced. Consequently, sights, sounds, uniforms and props are technically complex, according to Ridge, for a very realistic portrayal of the period.
“Tracers” will be performed in the round with the audience close to the stage and speakers surrounding the theater, so the audience will feel immersed in the world of the play.
Sound designer Katie Hemmeter, a junior B.A. theatre major, has four-and-a-half pages of sound cues so far, calling for gunfire, explosions, the chaotic sounds of an ambush and helicopters. One of Hemmeter’s most challenging scenes will include the sounds of a helicopter flying in, hovering and then flying out.
In addition to the sounds of warfare, Ridge included music from the 1960s, which she explains as significant, because “the Vietnam War was the first rock ’n’ roll war.”
However, Hemmeter says, “Mixed in with it will be Vietnamese music. One will fade in and one will fade out.”
The costumes are real army fatigues, helmets and gear that were made for the Vietnam War, from the school’s own costume storage as well as what could be found by searching the Internet and Army surplus stores. Costume designer Michelle Urbaniak, a graduate student, began researching Vietnam War uniforms last December in order to ensure what she used “existed during the ’60s and the Vietnam War.”
“There was a large mixture of different ways to wear the uniform, hair, facial hair and accessories,” Urbaniak explains. “I want the costumes to be as accurate as possible for the audience members to get an understanding of what this war was like.”
Even the actors are learning the reality of army life. To help them fully understand the script, the characters they portray and what it is like to prepare for war, the actors underwent boot camp. In January, retired Army Lt. Col. Phyllis Naffziger put them through the first rigorous stages of a soldier’s training, complete with dog tags, marching in formation and all the “recruits” receiving “buzz” haircuts.
“I told Lt. Col. Naffziger to take no prisoners,” Ridge says. “They needed to learn the language and learn everything that is referred to in the script.”
Due to the adult content, no one younger than 17 will be admitted.
“Tracers” will be performed in the Players Theatre from March 29 through April 1 and from April 11 through April 15, at 7:30 p.m. weekdays with a 2 p.m. showing Sundays. The theater is located behind the McDonald’s and Pizza Hut restaurants on east Lincoln Highway.
Tickets are $14 for adults, $8 for seniors and $7 for students. For reservations or more information, call the Stevens Building box office at (815) 753-1600 from 12:30 p.m. until 4:30 p.m. weekdays and one hour before curtain.
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