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Spirited Siblings

LUTD to present 'Incredible Fox Sisters', Oct. 26-29

Juliana McManus and Dominique Roman rehearse a seance scene from "The Incredible Fox Sisters
Juilanna McManus, left and Dominique Roman rehearse. UP photo by Brian Quijada.

It’s late at night as the wind howls and leaves fall from the trees. Three sisters set up a conjuring table to summon the spirits around them, not knowing how much of role they’ll have in American history.

Lamar University’s Department of Theatre and Dance presents “The Incredible Fox Sisters” Oct. 26. Directed by Guest Artist, Craig Johnson, the play tells the story of three sisters who tour the United States, showcasing their art of conducting séances. 

“They're credited with being some of the founders of spiritualism in the United States,” Director Craig Johnson said. “They went from pretty much near obscurity to traveling around at a lot of different theaters and doing different kinds of séances. Sometimes they were in people's living rooms, sometimes in larger theaters, and stuff like that.”

Craig Johnson said the chair of the department, Joel Grothe, asked him to put on this show.

“There's a couple things I can kind of bring to the table with the play,” Johnson said. “One is that in addition to working in the theater for many, many years, I also work as the manager running a large historic house museum, so dealing with old houses, which is where a lot of the action takes place, with real people in the 19th century and their stories is something I've done a lot of work on. I've also worked on Halloween programming particularly 19th century ghost stories, and adaptations of that.”

“The Incredible Fox Sisters” is a newer production written by Jacqueline Bacchus in 2015, Johnson said.

“A lot of times when you're doing a new show, you're trying to fulfill what this script is trying to do, and it's trying to do a number of different things,” he said. “It’s a spooky story, but it’s also quite funny in a lot of places, (which makes you wonder) ‘Hey, is any of this really true or not?’

It's educating people a little bit about not only (The Fox Sisters), but of spiritualism in in the United States and how that took off. Hopefully it will also touch people in a way so that as they're learning, they’re thinking about the lives of women in the 19th century who didn't have many options.”

Since the play is set during the 19th century, Johnson has been working with set designer, Lee Barker, and embracing the minimalistic, yet still stylistic design. Costumer Tanner McAlpin worked on creating hoop skirts for the women, which gives it a “Gone with the Wind style,” Johnson said.

Juliana McManus plays the youngest sister, Kate Fox, who is shy, playful, and likes to stick by the rules.

“I relate to this character the most because I'm also very quiet and I like to stick by the rules. “Athena” was more in your face and a little bit scarier. For other shows as well, I don't really relate to them as much as I relate to Kate. I feel like it's been a while since I've been in a play with kind of a bigger cast, and it's not quite as many lines to memorize which is a weight off my shoulder. I also love the spooky element. My favorite holiday is Halloween, so this is everything to me.”

Dominique Roman plays Margareta (Maggie) Fox, who is the middle sister.

“I feel like she becomes a little bit of the black sheep of the family,” she said. “Overall, she's very sassy, charismatic and a little aggressive at times, but not more than necessary. I would say that I connect to Maggie on a little bit of a different level. You can tell that she's on the outskirts. Sometimes she likes it and sometimes she wishes they would include her a little bit more. I feel like that's a message people can relate to. This shows particularly draws a lot of historical references and I think I haven't been able to do that with some of my other characters here, where I'm actually able to, do the research and figure out who she was as an actual person.

“(For rehearsals), we have a whole month of working on nothing but spooky stuff and talking to ghosts, so it really puts you in the mood, and my classmates are really fun. I think everybody like tries to bring in 100% of their A game and nobody's afraid to make choices. In general, the rehearsal process is a lot of fun."

Bailey Jenkins has three ensemble characters he plays: the sprit Mr. Split Foot, Quaker Isaac Post, and writer JFC.

“Mr. Split Foot is creepy,” Jenkins said. “He's going to be portrayed by a puppet. I saw him today for the first time and he’s pretty scary. There’s Isaac Post who’s from Minnesota. I love learning a new accent but like, it was exhausting. JFC is a writer and he's portrayed as this famous person, which is fun to do. There's a lot of stuff we haven't figured out with characters and that's for everybody. It's just because it's such a weird show, but I'm so excited.”

Shelby Eason is an ensemble member as well, playing the mother of the Fox Sisters, an opposing official, and some extras which interact with the sisters through their séances.

“The mother is kind of the foil,” she said. “She's the one who wants the girls to stay home, she's sick and dying of brain fever. Her daughters are about to run off and go do all these things and she is completely against it. The official is very strict and stern. I've kind of characterized her off of like Ross from 9 to 5 where she is very by the book, but she's also making this up as she goes because this is the beginning of the spiritualism movement. There's not like a record of people who do these things, so she has nothing to go based off of and tries to command a room that she has no power in, essentially. Mrs. Gaufner and Mrs. Somerset are both characters who have experienced loss, so they go to the Fox Sisters to get some closure for that.

I haven't done a whole lot of very stern characters, so people like the official and the mother are new territory for me. I played aggressive characters, sad characters and shy and small characters, but I don't think I've ever played someone who wants to command a room and be the person in charge. That's my challenge for the show and it's been going really well. I think the cast is really working well together and I enjoy the entire process.”

“The Incredible Fox Sisters” runs Oct. 26-28 at 7:30 p.m. and Oct. 29 at 2 p.m. in the Studio Theatre. Tickets can be purchased at lu.tudix.

Dominque Roman, left, Julianna McManus, and Shelby Eason rehearse for "The Incredible Fox Sisters" which opens Oct. 26 in the Studio Theatre. UP photo by Brian Quijada.
Dominque Roman, left, Juliana McManus, and Shelby Eason rehearse for "The Incredible Fox Sisters" which opens Oct. 26 in the Studio Theatre. UP photo by Brian Quijada.
Category: Features