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UPG gives play a Steampunk twist

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Elaine Fisher
Kaitlyn Schmidt plays Artesia, queen of the Saxons, (now married to King Aurelius) and Patrick Dittmar is Aurelius, king of the Britons, in 'The Birth of Merlin, or The Child Has Found His Father' at the University of Pittsburgh-Greensburg.

‘The Birth of Merlin, or The Child Has Found His Father'

When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 21-23; 2 p.m. Nov. 24

Admission: $10; $5 for students and senior citizens; available at the door only

Where: Ferguson Theater, Pitt-Greensburg campus

Details: 724-836-7483

By Cynthia Bombach Helzel
Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013, 7:01 p.m.

A nearly 400-year-old play will take on a contemporary edge when the Pitt-Greensburg Theatre Company presents its Steampunk version of “The Birth of Merlin, or The Child Has Found His Father” this weekend at the UPG campus in Hempfield.

Steampunk is “partially a fashion choice and partially a philosophy of life,” says director Stephen Schrum, who is associate professor of theater arts at Pitt-Greensburg. “It's going back to a simpler time with simpler technology, but also fixing the ills of the day.”

The movement is often described as “Victorian science fiction,” and its clothing draws heavily from Victorian fashion, aviator styles and Western saloon-girl wear. Schrum decided that the style was a good fit for the magic-heavy plot of “The Birth of Merlin.”

“The text lent itself to a Steampunk esthetic,” he says.

The fast-paced comedy was written by William Rowley in collaboration with William Shakespeare. It was first performed in 1622. The story takes place during a war between the Britons and the Saxons, who were invading from France and infiltrating the British court with the goal of overthrowing the throne. Amid the war, the legendary magician Merlin is born to a country girl who had a tryst in the forest with the devil.

In order to put even more of a contemporary twist on the play, Schrum made the invading Saxons into vampires and morphed two other characters into Cyber-goths. He also replaced the archaic terms of Shakespearan English with more modern words “to make it more accessible,” he says.

Schrum believes that audiences will enjoy “the action and the interplay of the characters, and I hope the costumes.”

The costuming was curated by Dianna Bourke, who is Schrum's wife. She has been designing the costumes on a volunteer basis for Pitt-Greensburg productions for 22 years.

Bourke describes the female costumes as “somewhere between formal Victorian and saloon girl.” For Steampunk men, suits with vests and top hats are the norm.

“The hats make the look,” Bourke says. “Top hats for men, funky hats and miniature top hats for women,” all embellished with things like goggles, gears, compasses, keys and pocket watches. “By the time you're done, the hat weighs almost three pounds,” she says.

The Steampunk theme will spread to the audience for one night as well. On Nov. 22, patrons who attend in Steampunk costume will receive 40 percent off admission and be eligible to win prizes in a costume contest.

A dinner-theater option will be offered Nov. 23. The $25 price includes dinner in Pitt-Greensburg's Hempfield Room and a show ticket with preferred seating. Actors from the play will appear in character during the dinner, which will have a garlic theme “to ward off the vampires,” Schrum says.

“It's a fun play,” Schrum says. “It's really funny, and I think people will enjoy our take on Steampunk.”

The Nov. 24 performance will include a live stream of the matinee via the campus' athletic department link:

Cynthia Bombach Helzel is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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