UT Theatre and Dance explore human connection in Sonnets for an Old Century

Sage Dunlap, Life and Arts Reporter

With Halloween creeping near, watch out for spirits wandering the stage at the Oscar G. Brockett Theatre this week. Beware — this performance is not a typical ghost story.

Beginning Oct. 7 , UT Theatre and Dance will put on public performances of Sonnets for an Old Century by playwright José Rivera. Directed by Corey Allen, an associate professor of acting, the anthology-styled play showcases the stories of 28 souls through monologues, dance and music. The play will be the first UT Theatre and Dance production with a live audience since the COVID-19 lockdown.

“This is my first show (at UT) that will have a live audience,” Andrew Kusman, an acting sophomore, said. “It’s been over a year since I’ve had to do anything like that, so it’s exciting. … It helps to hear audience reactions, but a lot of the time, it’s also helpful to hear the lack of reaction, because that could mean they’re invested in what you’re saying.”

Many scenes in the play contain solo performances, which Kusman said presented a new challenge to the actors.

“The hardest part (of the show) is the fact that it’s (written in) monologues. It’s so much easier to play off of another person in a scene and  … adapt in the moment,” Kusman said. “Acting by yourself and staying focused on what your character is trying to say is always a challenge.”

Theatre education junior Luis Gonzalez said preparing for his monologues helped him become more comfortable with vulnerability on stage.

“I dug deep into my inner child,” Gonzalez said.  “My character speaks a lot about dancing on the moon and … being 20 years old. That’s not normally something I would say in a regular conversation. So, letting your ego go and … embracing the fact nobody’s judging you while you’re on stage  … is the biggest challenge for me personally.”

Portraying a character left paralyzed by a car accident, Gonzalez said he felt an enormous responsibility to depict people with disabilities in a respectful manner.

“(We wanted to) represent (people with disabilities) in a positive way and not so much in a sad, dwelling way,” Gonzalez said. “It’s so relevant to what we’re dealing with in society.”

Sonnets for an Old Century, written in 2000, speaks on isssues of domestic abuse, police brutality, racism, suicide and many other topics often deemed taboo in contemporary American society.

“You would think the playwright wrote the play a couple months ago,” Gonzalez said. “I think it’s very important that we’re kind of shedding light on these topics but doing it in a performative and collaborative way. And we’re doing it with a diverse cast, which is awesome.”

As an acting senior, Nya Garner said she loved the opportunity to compile her lessons in drama and movement over the course of her time at UT.

“It was really exciting to … put everything that we’ve learned over the past four years into (a production),” Garner said.

Garner said people should go see the show not only to support the cast’s hard work during the past few months but also to appreciate the play’s commentary on modern social issues

“People should see the show because there’s something for everyone,” Garner said. “There’s a lesson to be learned, or something to take away for every person, no matter their age is or where they’re from. It’s very universal in that way.”

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story stated UT Theatre and Dance will perform Sonnets for an Old Century starting Oct. 6. The story has since been changed to say public performances of the play will begin Oct. 7. The Texan regrets this error.