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Hook, line & sinker: C of I professor puts on BCT play

“Every evening he went out upon the sea, and one evening the net was so heavy that hardly could he draw it into the boat…But no fish at all was in it, nor any monster or thing of horror, but only a little Mermaid lying fast asleep.”

Thus starts the short story The Fisherman and His Soul by Oscar Wilde, a tale that College of Idaho theatre professor Michael Hartwell has adapted for the stage of Boise Contemporary Theater. The play, co-written and co-directed by Hartwell and his Boise State University colleague Michael Baltzell, features several C of I students and alumni both on stage and behind the scenes.

“It’s something you don’t see very often,” Hartwell said. “It’s not your typical theatre play.”

Hartwell and Baltzell planned coinciding sabbaticals this spring to produce their play, which was approached visually, since both hail from an expertise in design. The Fisherman and His Soul explodes with imagery, and they wanted to capture every bit of it in the play.

“Oscar Wilde—his descriptions of everything are so fantastic,” Hartwell said.

The avant-garde play can be broken into two parts: one includes the usual actors-in front-of-an-audience, and additional scenes showcasing shadow theatre. So far, the visual effects have made an impact. A review from the Boise Weekly called the play “a visually and audibly vibrant spectacle sure to lure in audiences.”

But strip away the shining scales, and The Fisherman and His Soul is a story about finding love and exploring the question: “What is the soul of a man?”

“We tried not to answer that question so everybody could have their own answer,” Hartwell said.

C of I ties abound in the play. Alumnus Sean Dahlman ’14 was hired to compose all of the music for the play, with Anthony Parry '12 helping perform it. Angi Grow ’06, scenic artist at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, helped with the artwork and bringing the shadow scenes to life. Will Ledbetter ’11 helped build the set, and C of I lighting instructor Deborah Penrod also hopped on board.

On stage, alumna Jordan Bowman ’14 and C of I sophomore Hailee Lenhart-Wees shine. For Lenhart-Wees, the play is her first paid role as an actor.

“It’s a dream come true,” Lenhart-Wees said. “I’ve always watched shows at Boise Contemporary Theater and Idaho Shakespeare Festival. This is what I want to do and when I got the opportunity, I thought, ‘This is unbelievable.’ ”

The College was flexible with Lenhart-Wees’ academic schedule this semester, allowing her to fulfil a full-time acting job. The experience has been different from a college production, she said, and has helped her grow as an actress. While the troupe has fun, everyone is professional and puts in countless hours rehearsing, learning lines and polishing the play.

The experience of working alongside veteran actors helped Lenhart-Wees explore one of her characters, the merchant, a man with a boisterous laugh and a personality that fills the room. The character was hard to identify with, she said, because she is a shy person in her personal life.

Lenhart-Wees has enjoyed seeing Hartwell’s play come to life on the BCT stage, knowing all the hard work her professor put in. And like everyone else, the visual effects and artistry of the sets have captivated her. “The simplicity of the set makes it beautiful because it is kind of like a fairy tale,” she said.

After a year and a half of developing the play, meeting, rehearsing and writing grants, Hartwell describes the whole experience in one word: grateful. Grateful to work with an amazing cast and crew. Grateful to be granted a sabbatical. Grateful to watch his play rise from the depths of the sea—and flourish on the stage of the BCT.

Founded in 1891, The College of Idaho is the state’s oldest private liberal arts college. The C of I has a legacy of academic excellence, a winning athletics tradition and a history of producing successful graduates, including seven Rhodes Scholars, three governors, four NFL players and countless business leaders and innovators. The College’s close-knit, residential campus is located in Caldwell. Its distinctive PEAK Curriculum challenges students to attain competency in the four knowledge peaks of humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field—empowering them to earn a major and three minors in four years. For more information, visit www.collegeofidaho.edu.