Theater students at play during rehearsal for Proof, which opens Thursday, Feb. 21, on Arcadia University’s MainStage Theater, Spruance Fine Arts Center.
By SARAH R. SCHWARTZ ’10 Photography PEDRO LEAL ’13
Arcadia University Theater presents Proof, David Auburn’s intellectual mystery, from Feb. 21 to March 2. The 2001 Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning drama has captivated audiences all over the world since its 2000 debut, but it may hold special meaning for students completing their final year of undergraduate study.
Proof is a play about a revolutionary mathematical proof and uncertainty about its authorship. But there are many proofs being constructed simultaneously in this play—proofs of love, sanity, self-worth and legitimacy. With every fact revealed, a new question is exposed. Truth, it turns out, is elusive.
I caught up with Theater Arts major Sara Mitchell ’13 backstage two nights before the premier. She plays the leading role of Catherine, daughter of a world-famous mathematician, who, in the wake of her father’s decline into insanity, struggles to reconcile the challenges of her own life. As Mitchell prepares for a final dress rehearsal, applying stage makeup under hot vanity lights, she explains that her role will serve as the first half of her senior thesis.
She is joining hundreds of her peers from all academic disciplines—from health sciences programs to the fine arts—who, in these bone-chilling winter months, are all busy crafting posters and presentations for their senior Capstone projects. It is the opportunity for students to bring four years of coursework and academic and personal experiences together by engaging in an extended project in their major. Some busy seniors may find themselves relating to the lead character’s struggles.
The first scene finds Catherine sipping champagne in glum celebration of her 25th birthday. Losing days of work, paralyzed by her fear of both personal and professional of failure, she worries that she may already be “over the hill,” unable to prove her scholarly worth as a mathematics mastermind. She chides herself, “Better hurry up and do something meaningful while I have the chance.”
Both in exploring her character and tackling the challenge of Capstone, Mitchell has found that at a certain point you must surrender to your own invention. “For me, this project has been about discovering the courage to do the work, to give yourself over to your vision,” she says. “It’s more than an artistic endeavor, it’s a personal endeavor.”
Directed by Kevin Glaccum, the cast members have all surrendered to their artistic faculties to make Proof a winning production. Catherine’s sensible, chic and critical sister is played by Jillian Schwab '14; Robert, Catherine’s famous father, is played by Connor Feimster '14; and Hal, a dashing young math protégée, is played by Trevor Foehl ’13. In addition, Samia Merritt ’14, who works with Adjunct Professor Alisa Kleckner in the costume shop, designed the costumes.
Backstage, Schwab and Feimster join in on our discussion of the play, finishing each other’s sentences. “It’s pretty fantastic working with a script that was inspired by mathematicians who spend their lives proving theory,” says Schwab.
Mitchell agrees. “It’s beautiful—they have this hunch that these two numbers go together in a certain way, and they don't know how, and they have a feeling that they go together for a reason,” she says.
Feimster interjects: “Nothing is by accident.”
When asked about their approach to the mathematical content of the play, they say they’ve discovered that regardless of the field, everyone must approach challenges the same way.
“Like Catherine, you can have problems with feeling as though as a woman you have less opportunity,” says Mitchell. “You can have problems thinking that if you’re over a certain age, you’re not as relevant. And everyone has problems with their family. But the questions are: What will come as a benefit to me? What will come as a challenge to me? What can I learn from that? They’re very universal themes.”
Indeed, the production also illuminates a University theme. Whether through a theatrical performance or a mathematical solution, a senior thesis or an independent project, Arcadia students pursue truth and hone their talents through risk and rigor. The product is proof.
General admission – $15
Arcadia students – Free with ID
Non-Arcadia students, senior citizens and Arcadia alumni – $12