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‘It’s alive!’: UNM production of ‘Frankenstein’ electrifies Rodey Theatre

On Friday, Nov. 4, lights went up in the University of New Mexico’s Rodey Theatre for the first performance of “Frankenstein,” an original adaptation of the novel written by UNM associate professor Gregory Moss. The show is performed, directed and designed by University students and faculty and will play through Nov. 12. The show offers a fresh yet faithful adaptation of the beloved Mary Shelley novel.

“I think it’s a fun show. You know, it has themes and it has brain, but I think I’m more interested in it as an exciting story, something that can actually be a little scary and have a visceral effect,” Moss said.

The idea was first brought about when the Department of Theatre and Dance started planning their fall 2022 season with shows centered around the idea of monsters. “Frankenstein” came up in the conversation, and Moss took up the opportunity to write the adaptation.

“I like the novel, I’ve always liked it. I read it in high school — my high school English teacher went on to become a Mary Shelley scholar,” Moss said. “So I think I had some attachment to the book and to the author, and I’ve never done an adaptation, so it seemed like a fun challenge.” 

Three other professors helped direct the show — Juli Hendren, Alejandro Rodriguez and Erik Ehn — offering up a variety of different backgrounds and perspectives to pull from in the development of the show.

“These are all people who are really good at what they do, and the question was: how do we keep a consistent tone and a consistent line of communication to the actors but also be able to use everyone’s skills,” Moss said. “There was a lot of discussion around trading off — just figuring out what everyone could do and what they could contribute, and I just kind of integrated it and synthesized it.” 

Prior to Frankenstein, Hendren worked on a solo show called “Rot” about Mary Shelley and the parallels to Hendren’s own life, for which she did extensive research on the author and her novel “Frankenstein.” One of the most interesting aspects of the direction process for her was working with actors on material that had never been performed before.

“When shows are done over and over again, you have something to look back on and go, ‘what can I learn from what has happened before?’ But when you’re doing a brand new script … some of the beginning process was actually trying to remove everybody’s stereotypical, iconic ideas about ‘Frankenstein,’ whether it’s the novel, the movies, and really allow them to enter the material new, and so really discover, ‘who is this creature?,’ ‘who is this scientist?’” Hendren said.

The script has been in development for over three months, with changes being made up until dress rehearsals. The actors were heavily involved in the creation of the show and pitched in changes to the script.

“The actors had a lot to do with how the script evolved. Even in the room, we’d be working on a scene, I would be making a bunch of cuts (and) they would suggest something. Things they have suggested have shown up in the final script. It was very collaborative; I’d say maybe one of the most collaborative experiences I’ve had at UNM in the theater department.” Moss said.

Moss and Hendren both brought up the strong behind-the-scenes work: from costuming to set design to sound and lighting, everything fell into place for the production.

“The most rewarding thing, always, is watching the artists — especially student artists — grow. From watching them from the early drawings of costumes to the real detailed care once it happens, or just the hours and hours and hours building sound with all this detail and watching that happen, or lighting designs that really have to shift once everything comes into play,” Hendren said.

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Hendren also said she was incredibly impressed with how the actors shaped their roles: each student had their own unique path of growth when finding their own characterization and creative process.

“What I always love in working on a show at UNM is to see how the actors grow into their parts from opening night onward,” Moss said, “Once they sort of take possession of the show, it changes, and I find that generally they deepen and expand their performances, so I’m always excited to see that.”

Zara Roy is the copy chief at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at copychief@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @zarazzledazzle

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