Dropping everything, Harper Regan heads out on a mission to see her father before he dies. This road trip becomes a journey of self discovery as she finds the truth behind her relationship and explores the moralities of sex and death.
Elon University’s Department of Performing Arts will present its fall play, “Harper Regan,” on Thursday, Oct. 1 at the Roberts Studio Theater in Scotts Studios. The play, written by English playwright Simon Stephens, is set in Umbridge, Stockport and Manchester, England.
Elon’s fall play is typically cast at the beginning of the semester, but because the lead role of Harper is demanding and requires a Mancunian accent, or Manchester dialect, senior Rebecca Hurd was cast as Harper this past spring.
Hurd prepared for the role throughout the summer by working on the accent and memorizing her lines before reaching campus. She used YouTube to help perfect the dialect by watching a British soap opera, “Coronation Street,” which is also set in Manchester, England.
According to Hurd, her acting classes at Elon have also helped her craft the accent.
“We learn IPA, which is the International Phonetic Alphabet, to learn what symbols equal what sounds, so I worked with IPA symbols and correlating it with the Mancunian dialect,” Hurd said.
Although learning dialects can be challenging, Hurd said starring in the fall play has been a great experience, especially as a senior preparing to audition for professional shows after graduation.
“Elon views plays as an extension of the classroom, so it’s been an acting class every night which has helped me so much as an actor,” Hurd said. “I’m very lucky to be able to get to graduate with this experience.”
Senior Kelsey McCabe, who plays Alison Woolley, Harper’s mother, said the cast attends separate rehearsals for training with Kirby Wahl, dialect coach and professor of performing arts. Though this was her first time working with dialect, McCabe said it has been fairly easy to learn the accent.
“Once you get in the groove of it, it’s actually quite hard to switch back to your normal voice,” McCabe said. “It will never be perfect, but we try to get it as familiar as possible so the audience isn’t focusing on the accent.”
“Harper Regan” is unique because most characters only appear in a maximum of three scenes, usually appearing for 15 minutes at a time for the entire play. Director Kevin Otos, associate professor of performing arts, explained that this setup is convenient for the cast, especially since Elon students are known to juggle several commitments at a time.
“The play consists of 11 scenes, so students can come in and work on a scene for a block of time in one day and then have two days off and do their studies,” Otos said.
“Harper Regan” is a drama, dealing with heavy and serious topics like death and sex. Both Hurd and McCabe said the show is very different than anything they have ever done, as their background is mainly comedy — the two are involved with Elon Tonight, a sketch comedy at Elon.
“The play is very cinematic in a theatrical way, and it gets really into the nitty-gritty of people’s emotions,” McCabe said. “Sometimes you cry, sometimes you scream. It’s what we learn in acting class times 50.”
One of McCabe’s standout memories of “Harper Regan” was one particular rehearsal with Hurd and Otos. She was struggling with the deep style of the scene when Otos emphasized the importance of loving the other person you are working with in the scene.
“"Once the style clicked, real emotions came out from paying attention to the other person in the scene," McCabe said. “Every time we do a run and cry, we’re like ‘We never do this,’ so it’s cool to be able to get to that place with someone you really care about.”
Many of the underlying messages of “Harper Regan” are left up to the audience as they watch Regan’s growth, but its main theme is the search and acceptance for truth.
“The truth is messy, but in our society we like to think that the truth is good and it makes life easy,” Otos said. “That’s not always true, especially in this play.”
While “Harper Regan” is a heavy, complicated show, Otos hopes the audience is moved by its characters and themes even after leaving the theater. He said Stephens created situations difficult to understand and categorize, which will hopefully impact the audience in some way.
“A successful play is one where the audience is still wrestling with it when they’re driving in their cars or walking back to campus,” Otos said. “If this struggle can last outside the theater, audience members can leave with a better understanding of how complicated and difficult issues of modern life are.”
Correction: Elon Tonight is only a sketch comedy show, not an improv troupe. The Pendulum deeply regrets this error.