The Clarence Brown Theatre company will raise the curtain on its newest theatrical endeavor, "Our Country's Good," for a preview performance this Thursday prior to opening night on Friday.
Both shows start at 7:30 p.m. and are located at the Carousel Theatre stage.
The play, which is centered around a group of British convicts who are sent to settle an Australian penal colony in 1788, explores themes not only of the transformative power of theater, but also of the human experience.
"It's a good play in that it shows people who are striving for something," Neil Friedman, Clarence Brown's resident actor, said. "The government is striving to be more humane with these convicts while the convicts are trying to figure out what to do with their lives now that they're 15,000 miles from everything they know.
"It's a very human play, to see people going through their lives and trying to figure out which direction to go."
For the convicts, this inner search is facilitated through the production of a play ordered by their Lieutenant in an attempt to raise morale in their new and often hostile environment. Although 18th century British prisoners struggling for both hope and survival in Australia may seem like subject matter wholly removed from UT students' everyday lives, set designer Josafeth Israel likens the play to the college experience.
"It's a brilliant play about transforming yourself and becoming something better," Israel said. "It has this underlying theme that, in order to accomplish something, you have to put all of yourself into it, and that's what college is really about.
"When you enter college, you're putting your past behind you and working to grow in the hopes of transcending into something even better."
For Kyle Schellinger, full-time Draper for Clarence Brown and lead costume designer of "Our Country's Good," the convict's story and evolution mimics what theater as a whole is all about.
"Thinking about 'Our Country's Good' really enforces one thing in particular to me about theater," Schellinger said. "When you first meet the convicts, they're very fractured in their own worlds. There's not a sense of camaraderie between them."
However, throughout the play, the characters learn to overcome their initial distrust and quarreling to truly grow together as a community, Schellinger said.
"As the play progresses, you see them change so drastically and become a group that works together to create something," he said. "There's this one line near the end where the character says, 'Think of us as your family.' And for me, that has really held true for my experience with theater. You're able to find your family through the work that we do."
A sense of camaraderie was certainly needed to overcome some of the unique struggles the play's actualization presented, including the use of period dialect and the multi-role duty of the actors.
"Almost everybody plays two characters," said Friedman, who plays both an officer and a convict himself. "Sometimes we change on the corner of the stage in front of the audience and sometimes it's a full costume change. The dialect difference was also challenging -- my convict character, John Wiseman, speaks with a cockney accent while Captain Phillip speaks high British."
For Friedman, this ability to delve into another persona and mindset is one of the most interesting and rewarding aspects of his career field.
"Acting is really about observing human behavior, and you can learn things about the different characters you explore that have the potential to broaden minds," he said. "We could just observe other people by sitting on the main walkway of campus with a coffee and watching them go by, but you don't get the insight that you do in theater. Here, you're watching people have private moments and feeling what's inside their heads."
Our Country's Good will run Oct. 3-20. UT student prices include free admission to the preview, $10 for opening night and $5 for all other performances.