Written by Don Ratzlaff Tuesday, 24 April 2012 15:35
When Chris Dick reprises the role of Professor Harper in the Tabor College production of “Another Antigone” this Thursday and Saturday, he’ll certainly bring an authenticity to the part that he lacked 19 years ago as a Tabor senior.
As a professor of English at the college since 1999, Dick has now lived the role for almost 13 years. He said he better understands the tensions that arise between the need for a college to provide a “practical” education versus a “classic” education.
That tension is at the heart of A.R. Gurney’s “Another Antigone,” where a gifted student named Judy Miller, played by Ashley Bird, announces to Professor Harper’s chagrin that she intends to submit an updated version of Sophocles’s “Antigone” in place of the formal paper he has assigned.
“The play brings up tensions between the sort of practical administrator and the esoteric faculty member who’s just concerned with his old books and culture,” Dick said. “I think I understand that a little bit better now.
“I understand the demand on administrators to think about budgets and the financial side of an academic institution,” he added. “At the same time, as a faculty member, I understand a high standard and attempting to hold on to these great cultural artifacts, regardless of what the bottom line says.”
Director Judy Harder said the decision to ask Dick to reprise his role was an easy one.
“It was fun to consider Chris repeating the same role years later,” Harder said. “But even more, it is a fitting opportunity to benefit from Chris’s performance skills, teaching skills and his appreciation for the arts—including literature and live theater.”
And this wasn’t the first time, Harder asked Dick to consider the role.
“Judy brought it up several times and she just finally wore me down,” Dick said with a laugh. “I have just a lot of respect for Judy as a person and a director. I appreciate working with her.”
Timing was always the issue, he said. Dick put off taking on the role while working toward his doctorate, which he finally completed in December 2009.
“I had done a few little things with the drama department over the years—helped out with ‘Fiddler’ and with ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat,’” he said.
“I enjoyed this great group of students to work with, so it made the decision pretty easy to commit basically to a month’s work of rehearsals.”
Joining Dick and Bird in the small cast are Nolan Dirks, who plays David Appleton, Judy’s boyfriend; and Maria Loewen, who plays Diana Eberhart, the academic dean of the humanities department.
Coincidently, Dick, Dirks and Loewen are also Hillsboro High School graduates.
Bird’s participation has its own connection with Dick.
“It’s a little bit interesting because Ashley Bird is also an English major,” he said.
“I’ve had a good working relationship with Ashley as an English major, but in the play a tension develops. So it’s been sort of strange for me to figure out how to play with a tension that doesn’t actually exist in real life.”
Playing the role of Professor Harper 19 years ago hasn’t necessarily given Dick an advantage this time around.
“There were a few things I remembered in terms of the character and memorization, but it felt like I was starting from scratch pretty much,” he said.
“I did find an old video from that (1993) performance, which was interesting,” he added. “It took place in the old chapel with the old stage. So it was fun to see that again, and it was interesting seeing me do that character.”
Another connection between Dick and the play is that he has incorporated Sophocles’ “Antigone” as part of his classroom teaching.
“I currently try to teach one Sophoclean play in Composition Literature II class,” he said. “The last few years, though, I’ve been teaching ‘Oedipus.’ That’s just what’s been in our anthology.”
Dick said he believes a modern audience can still connect Sophocles’ original work as well as Gurney’s play—even though the play is set in the Cold War era. Both literary works deal with basic human truths, values and the “tragic flaws” that people today can identify within themselves.
“You don’t have to have a knowledge of ‘Antigone’ to appreciate ‘Another Antigone,’” he said. “The play really highlights the idea that when you study these great works of literature you’re exploring fundamental human truths that transcend the ‘practical’ education that we experience now. ”
Dick said one advantage of seeing the play this weekend instead of 1993 is the performance environment. The play will be performed in the small theater lab located in the basement of the Lohrenz Building.
“The performance now in the basement is going to be very different,” he said. “I think it’s a great space and a very interesting place to see a play.”
Performances will take place at 7 p.m. on both Thursday and Saturday. To reserve tickets, call the Student Life Office at 620-947-3121, ext. 1033. General admission is $5.