By David Thompson
The George Mason High School auditorium was buzzing with activity this week as young actors and stage crew members prepared for their spring play, “Museum.”
The stage crew, led by Mason teacher John Ballou and student Technical Director Madison Irwin, was readying the set on a visit to the school’s stage this Monday. Actors were trying out costumes. And Shawn Northrip, Mason theater arts teacher and the play’s director, was preparing his students for opening night.
The chaos on stage was all to put the finishing touches on a production that will see the Mason stage transformed into a modern art museum exhibit.
“Museum,” a mid-’70s satire written by Tina Howe, focuses on the closing day of one museum exhibit, The Broken Silence, and how the gallery visitors interact with it.
The characters approach the museum and The Broken Silence exhibit in an absurdist manner, retrieving meaning from the art where there is none. They stare at bare canvases and paint them with their own imagination.
“[The canvas is] blank but people find all this magnificent meaning in it,” Hannah Staples, a Mason student and “Museum” cast member, said.
If you ever went to a museum and watched the people instead of the exhibits, you would get the play that is “Museum.”
“It’s not your typical linear storytelling, which is a part of what I like about this piece,” Northrip said.
In one scene, a museum guard is followed by a man overcome by camera equipment. He starts to set up a tripod in front of some art – a blank canvas. He fumbles around for a minute or two before the guard yells, “You’re not allowed to take photographs in the museum!” From there, character after character enters the exhibit and explores it in their own absurdist way, and the audience sees the strained relationship the guard has with the museum-goers.
“I think the audience will each relate to a group of characters. They will find a group of characters that they can connect to,” Northrip said.
The characters include, but are not limited to, the art groupies, the culture hounds, the tourists, the snobs, and the rich using the museum as a shopping venue.
Northrip could have chosen any play to produce for his fourth production with Mason – Shakespeare springs to mind, or a musical, and he’s done both before – but Northrip wanted to do something different.
“I read a lot of plays. When I read this one I thought it would be a fun and unique experience for the students. It also had 36 parts, which provided lots of opportunities for students to get involved,” Northrip said.
“Museum” runs March 27 – 29. Performances are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. The play will be performed at George Mason High School, 7124 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church. Tickets are $10 for general admission and $5 for students.