‘The Good Person of Setzuan’ opens Friday with all-student cast
Theatre student Matt Fowler channeled his inner animal for inspiration in preparation for his role as Wang the Waterseller in the Grand Valley State University theatre department production of “The Good Person of Setzuan.”
The play, which opens April 5 at 7:30 p.m. in the Louis Armstrong Theatre, features an all-student cast directed by Kiara Pipino, GVSU visiting theatre professor.
“The thing about Wang is he’s a lot like Kiara, where he’s zany, and sometimes what you can do with roles is take inspiration from animals,” Fowler said. “The thing about Wang is that he lives in a sewer pipe, and he basically lives in the mud, but he loves it.”
His character resembles the director in terms of personality, Fowler said. And to help him get into the role, he repeated a lot of dog sounds, such as barking and whimpering.
“So I take inspiration from a dog, that Wang is very much like a dog and the way the show goes is that it’s very loose in terms of reality, that people can get away with certain things just because they live in this world where really drastic choices are OK,” Fowler said. “So I even go as far to make dog noises, like whimpering, panting, howling, barking, growling, all of that, throughout the play.”
Alongside Fowler is senior Bridgett Vanderhoof, who is ending her GVSU career with this performance.
“I studied this play last semester in a class all about Brecht and decided then that I would like to participate,” Vanderhoof said. “I was also very excited to be directed by Kiara Pipino, who is new to the faculty here and brings a fresh perspective.”
Along with her fresh perspective, Pipino used a different directing technique, which Fowler said helped him learn his lines.
“But Kiara used this technique called the Whelan Method, and what that is, it’s where she will record all our lines on the computer and then they’ll play it back and we just worry about the movement,” he said. “So our lines are said for us and we kind of, like, move while our lines are being said, as if we’re saying them and moving at the same time, so we don’t have to worry about what we’re saying, we don’t have to worry about books in our hands, we just try to get movement ideas, and I think that really helps.”
While he has performed in several plays around Grand Rapids, Fowler said this one was the most difficult for him to memorize lines.
“I took an entire week off just to pound my lines and get them into my memory, and even so, I mean, the stage movement changes with every rehearsal and it was hard to get them by memory,” Fowler said.
The play, which focuses on a female prostitute who has a “twin” that follows her around, is set in Setzuan, China. Pipino said the production incorporates many Chinese names, as well as exotic costumes.
“It’s a lovely story about a woman, a Chinese woman, Shen The, who needs to create herself a double, create herself a fictional character, an imaginary cousin in order to survive the overwhelming needs of her fellow citizens because she was being given a lot of money from the gods, with which she was able to open a shop,” Pipino said. “And her sudden richness, you know, affected a lot of people, and in order to survive, she had to create this evil counterpart of herself so that, you know, she could try to make the people aware that she wanted to be good, but at the same time she needed to preserve her own good.”
Pipino said that while the play is entertaining, it will also get people to think and apply the message of the play to their own lives.
“I like it because it’s a story that teaches everyone that it is important for everyone to make a difference in everyday life,” Pipino said. “So you have to be aware that, regardless of whatever happens in the greater picture, your contribution does affect the lives of others, and you have to just be whoever you are. You don’t necessarily have to be the best person in the world to do good in the world, you have to be yourself, and being yourself means you have good qualities, but you also have a bad side, you also have, you know, you don’t have to be perfect.”
Tickets are on sale at the Louis Armstrong box office and are $6 for students and seniors and $12 for community members. Day of the show tickets go up in price by $1. For more information, visit gvsu.edu/theatre.