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Summer Research brings magic to the Thoresen stage

Theatre professor Ken Parks reviews photos of the stage illusion tests with students Morgan Wardlaw ’17 (left) and Daisy Howard ’17.

Theatre professor Ken Parks reviews photos of the stage illusion tests with students Morgan Wardlaw ’17 (left) and Daisy Howard ’17.

Being in a theatre production is hard work. It’s even more difficult when just two people are doing the acting, creating the props and outfits, and writing the script. But with a little magic, Daisy Howard ’17 and Morgan Wardlaw ’17 are bringing all of those elements together for a special show.

For their Summer Research project, Howard and Wardlaw, along with theatre professor Ken Parks, have partnered with renowned magician Peter Samelson to recreate a magic show for the KTMA Arts Ensemble of Lynchburg using black art illusions. To those who aren’t familiar with the project, the group’s work in the Thoresen Theatre this summer might more closely resemble a building trades or home economics class.

Daisy Howard ’17 (left) and Morgan Wardlaw ’17 hang lights in Thoresen Theatre.

Daisy Howard ’17 (left) and Morgan Wardlaw ’17 hang lights in Thoresen Theatre.

“It’s like a musician doing a studio album where they play all of the instruments, mix it all together, and produce it,” Parks said.

One of the first tasks Wardlaw and Howard faced was building a portable puppet stage completely from scratch. The duo laughed as they recalled their struggle to wire light fixtures into the contraption.

“Looking at the finished product, we thought, ‘We are electricians,’” Wardlaw said. “But that was new for me, and it made me feel accomplished.”

They are also becoming expert seamstresses, by designing outfits for themselves and for the miniature, puppet versions of themselves. Howard, who has worked in the Thoresen Theatre costume shop for two years, said choosing the right outfits and fabric is essential in creating successful illusions.

Morgan Wardlaw ’17 (left) and Daisy Howard ’17 rip a board for a small set that will be used to demonstrate their stage illusions.

Morgan Wardlaw ’17 (left) and Daisy Howard ’17 rip a board for a small set that will be used to demonstrate their stage illusions.

“The hardest part of that was articulating exactly what we wanted when ordering the materials,” she said. “There’s only so much you can say, because there’s quite literally a lot that has to be behind the curtain. We couldn’t share a lot because then we’d be giving away what we’re doing and how the illusions work.”

Another mystery is how the two actresses will manipulate their illusions to tell a story. While writing the script, they are being challenged to incorporate as many props as possible into a show that already includes ventriloquism, dancing, magic, and even music.

“They’re multitalented and multifaceted, and learning the generalist approach to theatre so they can see how it all goes together,” Parks said.

As the eight-week Summer Research Program draws to a close, Howard and Wardlaw are enjoying seeing the results of their efforts. “It’s been hard work, but we’ve loved it,” said Wardlaw.

They will perform the black art illusions routine Friday at noon in Thoresen Theatre during the 2015 Summer Research Program final presentations. They will also perform in August and January with KTMA, when they will help Samelson perform at least one of his famous illusions.

Morgan Wardlaw '17 demonstrates one of her magic tricks.

Morgan Wardlaw ’17 demonstrates one of her magic tricks.



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