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October 10, 2013

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ETC tries setting Guinness record with “The Bald Soprano"

Is it absurd to try to do a play for 30 consecutive hours—if, in doing so, you set the Guinness Book of World Records’ mark for “longest dramatic performance”?

The Ensemble Theatre of Chattanooga will try to do just that—fittingly using a play by absurdist playwright Eugene Ionesco as the piece in question.

“ ‘The Bald Soprano is not written to be 30 hours long,” says director John Cecil Thomas. “It's a 37-page script written to begin again at the end with two couples switching roles. When I was researching the show, I discovered there is a Guinness World Record for longest dramatic performance by a theatre performing ‘The Bald Soprano’—just under 24 hours. We discussed it and decided to pursue setting a new world record. We wanted to challenge ourselves and attempt to set the new record considerably higher in the hope of holding the record for a long time.”

Romanian playwright Ionesco wrote the play in 1957 while he was attempting to learn English. The often-ridiculous dialogues used in language lessons fascinated and amused him, so he wrote a piece originally called “English Without Toil”, which he changed to “It’s Raining Cats and Dogs”. According to theatre lore, it acquired its final title after a verbal slip made by an actor in rehearsal.

In the play, the Smiths, a traditional English couple, have invited another couple, the Martins, over for dinner. They are joined later by the Smiths' maid, Mary, and the local fire chief, who is also Mary's lover. The two families engage in meaningless banter, telling stories and relating nonsensical poems. 

Ionesco did, apparently, mean for “The Bald Soprano” to be performed as a continuous “loop”, with stage directions instructing that the performance starts over again. After the original 100th performance, he added the instruction that the Martins would substitute for the Smiths in the second run-through, the two couples alternating back and forth for as long the performance lasted.

“All the actors are not on stage for the entirety of the performance,” says Cecil, answering a basic logistics question. “When they are offstage they will take breaks, eat, use the restroom and even catch a possible five-minute cat nap. But there are no breaks between the repetitions of the show, so everything has to happen while the show carries on.” Cast members include Janni Ball, Zach DeSutter, Christy Gallo, Megan Hollenbeck, Sanford Knox Jr. and Jeremy Wilkins. 

But what about the audience? Are there intrepid souls willing to take on a 30-hour marathon performance? “I honestly hope so,” says Cecil. “This is an opportunity it is to witness history in the making—and it's happening right here in Chattanooga. We'll be giving prizes to audience members who stay the longest, both consecutively and cumulatively.”

Guinness records require documentation, but ETC has that covered. Says Cecil, “We’ve received their packet of documentation that must be filled out to submit at the completion of the attempt. Included with that will be official timekeepers’ statements, video recording of the entire event and individual professional witness statements by professionals in the field of theatre.”

Will the lure of a world record be enough for performers and audience? We’ll find out when the company makes its attempt starting Friday, Oct. 25 at 7:30, running through early morning Sunday, Oct. 27.

(For the fainter of heart who would still like to see the absurdist classic, more traditional performances will play 7:30 Oct. 18-19, and 2:30 Oct. 20.) 

“The Bald Soprano,” 

Ensemble Theatre of Chattanooga, 

5600 Brainerd Rd. (inside Eastgate Town Center). 

For tickets and more information, call (423) 987-5141 or visit ensembletheatreofchattanooga.com 

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October 10, 2013

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