On the evenings of Nov. 15 and 16, students and community members waited in line at the Gund Gallery in hopes of scaling the waitlist to see Unframed, a series of four short musicals directed by Associate Professor of Drama Anton Dudley. The production took place in the upper level of Gund Gallery, where audience members sat on wooden stools in the center of an art-lined room.
The plots and characters in Unframed are derived from specific works of art in the gallery. Dudley selected one painting, one drawing, one photograph and one sculpture to inspire the four different musicals that comprised the production.
“They’re in four different media, but I think what all of them have in common is they all kind of define an absence,” Dudley said. “Their present moment is haunted by a history, and you see them trying to reconcile the present with the past in these images.”
The portrayal of loss in Unframed is evident in distinct ways throughout the musicals. The subject matter included loss of youth, loss of reality and the loss of family and loved ones. Through stylistic decisions such as the arrangement of the audience in the performance space and the sudden transitions of actors from story to story, Unframed was unflinchingly original, transcending traditional theatrical expectations.
The novelty of the production allowed for the actors and musicians to make it their own. Their voices and instruments adopted haunting cadences, and their movements were sometimes intentionally jarring and sometimes quiet and graceful. In the final musical about the death of the main character’s mother and her life surrounding that loss, the actors danced their way through the story, using abstract movements to carry the heart-wrenching narrative. Even though he had written it, Dudley expressed that Unframed felt new to him when performed by the dedicated and passionate cast.
“I was sitting there watching the [final] rehearsal last night, and some of the pieces are really moving, and I was in tears—and I wasn’t in tears because of the writing. I was in tears because the students were connecting to the piece so much,” Dudley said. “And so that’s amazing: when you envision a piece and then all of a sudden it’s not yours anymore.”
Unframed gave audiences an opportunity to perceive art differently. Instead of art being something for the audience to view, it became a wholly immersive experience. The actors and accompanying musicians brought to life pieces that are usually confined to a gallery wall.
“I think we look for narrative in all works. I think human beings are storytellers by their nature. And so this is just about different ways of perceiving narratives,” Dudley said. Throughout the production, the relationship between the audience and the art could flourish into a deeper connection.