The concept for ‘Spoon River Anthology’ is a unique and inspired project which feels like it is embracing this difficult period of time rather than actively struggling against it; interweaving a variety of art forms from the theatrical, to art and music, its creators have opened up the possibilities of a multi-media project and provided much needed escapism in their decision to adapt Edgar Lee Masters’ intriguing poetic narrative.

The original anthology, comprising of over 200 short verse poems, is concerned with bringing to life the inhabitants of a small fictional town ‘Spoon River’ through their epitaphs, providing a holistic portrait of the intricacies of everyday rural life.

In Director Georgie Dettmer’s own words: “Paper Moon’s production will foreground the relationships of the various people the audience meet, introduced by the mystical and marvellous poetess Minerva Jones. This is a production that reflects the need for connection we are all feeling at the moment and aims to bring to life this little town in the living rooms of each audience member. The script is adapted into a cohesive narrative which acts like a journey through Trainor’s drug store to Dippold’s opticians. Our audition process has focused on the fantastic opportunity our script provides, which is that we have 25 available roles. As auditions opened, we held one of the first of its kind ‘Auditions Workshop’ which was hosted for anyone who has not performed in Oxford drama before. We had an uptake of thirty people and consequently received an influx of auditions from those who have never acted before and are now engaging with the drama scene which we are over the moon about. The cast recording will be accompanied by original music and song as well as the journal of visual arts; this multi-media approach will ignite a variety of senses which will bring the little town of Spoon River to life for a single night on the new moon. It’s an event which, due to circumstance, must be listened to individually, yet it will bring together an audience at the same time, on the same night to sit up and hear the stories of Spoon River and its inhabitants.”

Illustration by Paul Majek

The ambition of this project is easily admired, and the sheer quantity of participants is indicative of the interest throughout the Oxford artistic scene in getting involved. With 22 actors and 13 artists on board, it is truly a large-scale undertaking. Sitting in on rehearsals, the quality of the acting is a delight to witness, with each narrator offering distinct takes on the writing. Eugenie Nevin as Minerva Jones, the poetess/narrator of the piece confidently navigates the spaces between monologues, offering a necessary continuum that ensures a stability to the framework as a whole.

“It’s been such a joy to see and hear the ideas of so many people across a multitude of disciplines and it’s this love and appreciation for so many artistic forms that will become evident on the performance night. This production fits like many different puzzle pieces and when the journal, the audio, and the music come together, so too will the fictional and mystical town of Spoon River!” – Georgie Dettmer

The utilisation of song seemed especially striking in the rehearsal room, and I am intrigued to see the form this will take in the finished project, creating a soundscape that feels pulled from a folktale. Michael Freeman’s elegant compositional work should be highly commended, and seeing such a close relationship between theatre and music is always a joy to behold.

This audacious project brings together artistic disciplines in a manner which foregrounds collaboration and support, symbolising how innovation is always necessary in the face of adversity, and proving that Oxford Drama is far from stagnating. This is not a show to miss.

Illustration by Willow Senior

You can buy tickets to the show HERE, and you are purchasing a specially curated journal and access to the audio recording. The journal, full of different original works of art, will arrive in time for the performance night on the 13th March 2021.

Reya Muller

Reya (she/her) is a Theatre Editor at the Oxford Blue. Outside of her degree, Reya spends most of her time involved in student theatre and is an avid writer of both prose and poetry. She was an editor for the lockdown art collective Hypaethral and has published articles at the Blue ranging from gushing about Michaela Coel to describing how best to fry bread (never too much butter). In her spare time, she can be found either making or eating dumplings.