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Check your notion of self at the door.

Byline: Anonymous For The Register-Guard

Imagine the wacky, irresponsible or evil things we might put in newspapers if no one had to answer to the byline.

What if, suddenly, only our sources knew which reporter wrote the story? How would that change the relationship between reader and writer? And what if sources also were able to remain anonymous? Would the news be as reliable?

Without the responsibility of being noticed in general society, would we have the same standards of newsworthiness? Would we hurt innocent people's feelings? Damage lives? Could you trust us to not make up sources, or even whole stories?

What about art criticism? Are nameless reviews more reliable than those with a byline? Would writers hold back their true thoughts for fear of burning bridges with sources or incurring the wrath of angry readers? How would all of this affect the perception of truth?

And would we use more cliches, such as "incurring the wrath"?

In what professions is anonymity acceptable? Why? Who decides?

By Serena Markstrom

The Register-Guard

University Theatre students hope to leave their audiences with more questions than answers about anonymity and its social implications during a three-week run of a devised theater project that debuts tonight.

"Anonymous" happens on four levels and in six rooms of Villard Hall and the adjoining Robinson Theatre, where student productions typically take place this time of year.

This project is anything but typical.

"With 'Anonymous,' text is not the most important thing," faculty director John Schmor said. Schmor has worked with students on two other devised projects at the UO, the last of which was "Kafka Parables" two years ago.

"This is more somewhere between funhouse and installation art,' Schmor said. `There are some stories told within the event, and there are definitely theatrical performances, but it's not any sort of realistic story with dialog and characters."

Students in the `Kafka' group were the ones who started brainstorming about doing something completely original, not based on outside authorship. But Schmor said he came up with the theme of anonymity after a different classroom discussion about why so many young people don't vote.

"These things kind of organically develop over time," he said. "I really liked the political paradox that I talk about in the press release."

In that release, Schmor outlines the types of questions he put to students for discussions that eventually led to some of the smaller pieces in the final whole.

What do we do to help make room for those who are forced into hiding, or who do not feel welcome to speak out? When is it probably necessary, not cowardly, to act or speak anonymously?

Anonymous action, he explains in the release and during a phone interview, carries fundamental moral questions.

"Anonymous acts run the gamut from foolish pranks to outright terrorism but also form the basis for what many regard as the highest form of charity," he says in the release. "That's a beautiful conundrum, to my mind."

Don't ask to meet the author

In the fall, students from all over the university attended auditions.

The hopefuls brought their own work, and Schmor ran them through a series of exercises to find a core group of 15 from dance, theater, art, journalism and other backgrounds who would create the piece. Fourteen of those students perform in "Anonymous," aided by a designer working behind the scenes.

Some ideas that surfaced during auditions - such as a character, Anonyma - made it to the final piece. But the creation of everything audience members will experience in the next three weeks had many hands on it.

There will be no program detailing who contributed what or who plays which character. That was one of the first decisions the class made, Schmor said.

One core cast member, James Engberg, shall remain only semi-anonymous. He plays one of four clowns, based on the European theater tradition.

"We each have a main part that we play," said Engberg, a graduate student in theater. "I'm a clown through most of it, but I also tell a story."

Here's where it gets tricky: Engberg tells a story, but it won't happen in the same room at the same time each night.

Patrons could arrive at the production together and go their separate ways, making individual choices along the way and coming out with different experiences when they compare notes after the show.

A single person could go several times and not duplicate the experience.

"It's very different from anything I've ever done," Engberg said. "On the most basic level, usually we start with a script and go forward, ... bring something already here to life. This is extraordinarily different, because all we started with was a concept."

The way students carry out this concept will challenge audience members' notion of what a theater experience is. Engberg said those with the most rigid idea of theater may have the most difficulty adjusting, but he encouraged them to try.

"I don't think it's always going to be comfortable for the audience, and I think that's a good thing," he said. "We have a general sense of respect for people's comfort levels, but we're not trying to make people comfortable, (either).

"We are going to be uncomfortable and scared, too. We are going to have to make those adjustments, just like the audience."

Welcome to the Anonaprom

Those involved with the show didn't want to give away too much about its actual content. Although many pieces require the audience to make choices, no one will be asked to perform for others or forced to do anything.

In one room, you walk in, sit down and stay as long as you like as different storytellers enter and tell their tales. Another room is all technology arranged for viewing.

"There are also places where you may be invited," Schmor said. "If you go to see Anonyma, for example, she might invite you to have a special audience with her and she may ask you some hard questions. You may go to the Anonaprom and dance to the live band music, or have your picture taken."

The class used text to launch discussions and to engage in a philosophical debate on the very definition of anonymity, Schmor said. The text doesn't show up directly in the show.

In fact, Schmor said, only two pieces contain author attribution.

Consciously or not, the audience can affect the show. A second batch of 25 students (the "minders') will join the core performers to realize ideas students have spent six months to develop. There literally will be ears all over the building, and things overheard from the audience could alter the content of the performance.

"This is a much greater risk in some ways, because it's an engineering feat - social engineering, I mean," Schmor said. "This one doesn't demand as much in terms of acting. ... It demands a lot of versatility and stamina from the performers.

`This thing is more from scratch than the other two."



What: A devised theater piece exploring the theme of anonymity

Devised? Theater created by performers and designers, not based on a playwright's words

When: Audience members may enter the building between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. today, Saturday, May 24-26, 31 or June 1-2; it will take about 1 1/2 hours to experience the production

Where: Villard Hall, 1109 Old Campus Lane

Tickets: $12 for the general public; $9 for seniors, non-UO students, faculty and staff; $7 for youth ages 6 to 18 and $5 for UO students (346-4191)

On the Web: A podcast of an interview with director John Schmor is at www /ticketfiles
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Title Annotation:Entertainment; University Theatre's "Anonymous" offers something for everyone - and no one at all
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 18, 2007
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