Embark on a time-traveling journey across centuries in University Theatre’s ‘Orlando’

By Kari Dickinson

Based on Virginia Woolf’s feminist classic, University Theatre’s newest production, “Orlando” — which opens this Thursday — will take the audience on a journey across the world and through centuries in a profound, moving, and sometimes funny story about one person’s search for love and artistic fulfillment. 

The show runs April 18-28 in the Ronald E. Mitchell Theatre in Vilas Hall. 

In Sarah Ruhl’s contemporary adaptation of Woolf’s novel, the poet Orlando journeys amidst the shifting tides of history, cultural norms, and gender roles and expectations — even changing from man to woman — in their quest to write the perfect poem. 

UW–Madison’s production is directed by Ann M. Shanahan, a professor in the Department of Theatre and Drama and the artistic director of University Theatre. Shanahan, who began her role in fall 2023, says it has been a “true joy” to bring this lyrical, highly theatrical story to life for her first project on campus. 

“The themes that (Woolf) explores in 1928 are still resonant, and in some ways even more resonant, now,” she says. 

The cast is made up entirely of UW–Madison students ranging from first-years to seniors, who have come together to form a “richly woven ensemble,” Shanahan says. 

“They bring such a beautiful, collaborative, open energy. It’s a really positive, creative, and constructive group, and they’re really invested in the project and each other.” 

Scenic design by UW–Madison alumna Juliana Gessner, who graduated with a BS from the School of Education’s Department of Theatre and Drama in 2022, is inspired by the Bloomsbury Group and the salon gatherings they held, which helped inspire Woolf to write her works. 

“I’m blown away with what they’ve been able to achieve within the space,” says Shanahan. As the audience walks into the theatre, it will feel as if they are invited to a gathering of the Bloomsbury Group — which included many famous writers, philosophers, poets, activists, and editors of the day — in the home of Virginia Woolf or perhaps that of her sister, the painter Vanessa Bell.

Costume design for the show is by Aly Amidei, an assistant professor in the Department of Theatre and Drama; lighting design is by guest artist Brandon Wardell, an associate professor and head of the MFA in Lighting Design program at Northern Illinois University; and sound design is by Isabel White, who like Gessner is a Department of Theatre and Drama alum (BS, 2020) and has served as sound designer for many department productions. 

Last but not least is the audience, without whom this story cannot come to life, Shanahan says. 

“We need the audience’s collaboration in order to make this thing come together. It’s a celebration of creativity, and in particular, the collective creativity that can only happen in the theatre, in the present moment.”

She adds: “I’m looking forward to sharing this play with audiences. It’s really quite beautiful.”

Get your tickets now at artsticketing.wisc.edu or by calling 608-265-2787.

Content Advisory: This play contains mature content.

This production is made possible by support from the Anonymous Block Grant.

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