A novel venue enables a novel's presentation

Published: July 17, 2014

Coming up in the CU-Boulder’s ATLAS Black Box Theater is square product theatre’s production of "SLAB," an adaptation of Denver writer Selah Saterstrom’s forthcoming novel. The story is about a woman’s life in the American South told through her memories and from the slab of her post-Katrina home.

Performances will be held Thursdays through Saturdays, from July 31-Aug. 16. Emily K. Harrison, a CU-Boulder alumna and instructor at both CU-Boulder and Naropa University, is the founder and producing artistic director of square product theatre. She will also play the lead role, known only as “Tiger,” who shares her story from the remains of her home in Waveland, Mississippi. In collaboration with Los Angeles director Gleason Bauer, the two women have created what will be the world premiere of Saterstrom’s story, one that was energized by the natural disaster yet more concerned with human experience through memory. As Harrison described, ATLAS is the ideal place for "SLAB," because it will enhance the projection of a dynamic story, supported by sound, video and performance.

“Truly, ATLAS is the only place in town that can do this show,” Harrison said, pointing to the theatre’s technical capacities to incorporate the narrative. “You can’t possibly put an entire novel on stage.”

In order to adapt the novel, the crew cut pages into video, specifically from footage they caught in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Emotion will be enhanced by sound, and only five actors will play the roles of dozens, represented by subtle changes in costume and background imagery. Video design was created by Christina Battle, and the sound score was composed by Janet Feder and Paul Fowler.

The idea to perform "SLAB" as a world premiere came about when Harrison heard the novelist read an excerpt at Naropa’s Summer Writing Program a few years ago. Saterstrom mentioned that she’d like to see the novel performed in some way, and at the time, Harrison was working on the creation of her own play, Tornado Season. Noting the similarities between each piece of writing, Harrison eagerly got in touch.

“The great thing about the novel and her work in general is that it’s got a lot of rich imagery,” said Harrison, adding how Saterstrom “tells really funny stories and really horrible stories.” A Mississippi native, Saterstrom uses much of her work to explore human suffering that’s influenced by social institutions, yet with an approach that’s more humorous than tragic. Other books written by Saterstrom include The Meat and Spirit Plan and The Pink Institution.

While the play mainly takes place on the hurricane-demolished slab of Tiger’s home, her memories dance across the greater American South. Characters from Tiger’s memory are impoverished, and as Harrison described, the characters live in a system that aims to keep them impoverished. Harrison also received a doctorate in theater from CU-Boulder, and her scholarship reflects an emphasis on American theater.

“I think the social messages in it are huge,” said Harrison. “What we think is really important about it is, when you don’t have anything left, what you do have are your stories. That’s what can sustain you and carry you through.”

Harrison urges students, friends and the greater public to attend, not just because ticket prices are low, but it will be a show that fuses media with performance, and audiences will “see things they can relate to.”

Tickets will be $20 for general admission, $17 for seniors and $15 for students. On Thursdays, general admission tickets will be two for the price of one.