November 12, 1998
Vol. 18 No. 4

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    [ping chong and ut actors], by andrew campbell
    Avant-garde artist, director, playwright and choreographer Ping Chong directs University Theater members during a workshop in October. The renowned artist guided students in their interpretation of his play Kind Ness, opening Wednesday, Nov. 18, and running through Saturday, Nov. 21.

    Kind Ness takes shape as company creates

    By Jennifer Leovy
    News Office

    While maintaining control of improvisations through his suggestions, playwright Ping Chong likes to leave a production’s creativity to the actors. This skill impressed Matt Irvin, who will direct University Theater’s Kind Ness, a stylized play by Chong that unites multimedia, improvisation and gesture.

    A playwright, director, choreographer and avant-garde artist, Chong based the setting and characters in Kind Ness on Archie comics, “I wanted a very ’50s image that captured a sense of face,” he said. The play explores American stereotypes and the sense of alienation they create.

    Production manager Nick Green said this production, like the rest of UT’s season, is “off-beat and risk-taking. We are going beyond ‘vanilla’ choices and doing a show that grapples with issues that affect and are relevant to students.”

    Irvin, Green and designer David Wolf had the rare opportunity to meet Chong when he led a workshop for UT members last month. Chong, an Obie award winner, a recipient of six fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and a Guggenheim fellow, discussed his artistic process and then directed students in improvisation.

    “Working with Ping Chong was very inspiring,” said Irvin, adding it was helpful for him to see how Chong works with actors.

    Chong values the input of actors immensely, looking to them to provide ideas through improv to make the play work. “I have a general idea of what my show is about,” said Chong, “but sometimes, I don’t know what the scene is about.” Chong and the company create that together.

    Irvin said one of the biggest challenges in his production is making sure the audience feels pathos for characters who are stereotypes modeled after comic-book characters. Using techniques similar to Chong’s, Irvin brought his Off-Off Campus experience to the rehearsal process, incorporating improvisation to explore characters and to develop sections of the script where Chong calls for improvisation.

    Wolf has used improvisation in his design work as well. “We tried to keep the collaborative spirit of the original production going as much as possible,” said Wolf. “We did an experiment where we had the actors, who have been doing a lot of ensemble building, perform some improvisations with images from the script–explicit and implied–which they felt gave them access to their characters.”

    Wolf used the sessions to guide the imagery in Kind Ness.

    Chong says Kind Ness is “a bit like a puzzle thrown on the floor. You see the pieces scattered on the floor, and you put them together in your head.”

    The playwright said he believes the majority of movies and theater productions today spoonfeeds the American audience. “I don’t believe in that kind of audience. I believe you should have to think about the meaning.”

    Kind Ness will be performed at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 18, through Saturday, Nov. 21, in the First Floor Theater of the Reynolds Club. Call (773) 702-7300 for tickets or more information.