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Mariane Murray (center) and the rest of the cast of "Elbows Off The Table" perform in Kantner Hall on September 21. The show is written by Elizabeth VerNooy, a professor in the College of Fine Arts at OU. 

Ohio University Division of Theater opens season with OU professor’s play ‘Elbows Off The Table’

The Division of Theater opens its season with Elbows Off The Table, a movement-based play by Assistant Professor of Theater Rebecca VerNooy about sexuality and societal expectations. The production will run Tuesday through Saturday.

At most, Sana Selemon only says about five words at a time during a performance of Elbows Off The Table.

Instead of focusing on text, Elbows Off The Table is a piece based on movement. As the first main stage production of the Ohio University academic year, the play is running now through Saturday in the Elizabeth Evans Baker Theater in Kantner Hall.

Elbows Off The Table follows one woman’s journey in dealing with sexuality and confronting societal expectations. With an all undergraduate cast consisting of seven women and three men, each actor plays either a pressure in society or an aspect of her conscience.

For instance, Selemon, a junior studying acting, plays “C,” the main character’s ego or self-conscious.

“The first time I think people see it, it’s almost a lot of shock," Selemon said. "It’s so content heavy for just being a 45-minute production. ... Definitely come in with an open mind. It’s going to challenge you, in a way.”

Movement theater pieces are nonlinear in plot. The abstractness of a movement piece leaves a lot up for interpretation, writer and director Rebecca VerNooy said.

“It’s quite disjointed," VerNooy, assistant professor of theater, said. "The way you have to look at it is, there is no ‘supposed to.’ It’s not supposed to mean anything. It means whatever you get from it. Whatever you’re taking away from it is exactly what you’re supposed to get from it.”

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Movement-based productions aren’t as mainstream, Selemon said.

VerNooy first thought of the idea for the play in 1998 and has had it in the back of her mind ever since.

“For me, it was about going to the wrong places for what you want when dealing with growing up with society's expectations,” VerNooy said. “You’re really looking for love, but you go for the bad boy. Going to the hardware store looking for milk – as they say. You’ve got this emptiness inside you, so you go take a drink. We have this need to feel filled.”

Conceived as a “voice collage,” VerNooy said the meaning of the piece will change based on not only the cast but also the audience.

The freedom to collaborate was one of the aspect’s Selemon enjoyed most.

“(VerNooy) really let us follow our instincts with a lot of things," Selemon said. "She let us follow our own impulses. (VerNooy) told us many times: It’s not her show. It’s our show. I love that I can call this play mine, in a way.”

Lighting and background visuals help distinguish between movements, or acts. Justen Locke, lighting designer for Elbows Off The Table, said he used the movement of the piece to inspire him. For instance, a projection of a rotating clock appears twice in the play.

“I wanted the clock in the background to represent the disorientation of her life,” Locke, a third-year graduate student studying scenic and lighting design, said. “In the beginning, it’s pulsing, then throughout the play, it pulses a little bit more faster.”

Though the play is open to interpretation, VerNooy has one takeaway she said she hopes all audience members will come away with.

“That we’re all in this together,” she said. “This sense of isolation that women feel, everyone feels that. We’re all in this together.”


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