Doug Fitch's 'How Did We ...?' entertains at the CFA

Professor Doug Fitch's humorous characters and surreal dreamscape enrapture crowd

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The show began before the curtains opened.

An airplane stewardess appeared on stage, reminding the audience members to turn off their cellphones, as it may disrupt the journey, and that no smoking is allowed unless “you’re on fire and can’t help it.”

The offbeat brand of humor set the mood for Thursday at the Center for the Arts (CFA).

Thursday was the first of three consecutive nights of performances of “How Did We…?” – WBFO visiting professor Douglas Fitch’s elaborate theater show. The show featured a blend of whimsical characters with a strange dream-like landscape and was performed by UB students and faculty from both the Department of Theatre & Drama and the Music Department.

Fitch described the show as “an opera of images.”

"I truly believe Doug Fitch to be a genius,” said Daniel Bassin, an adjunct assistant professor of music, who conducted the Slee Sinfonietta for the show.

Bassin praised the show as a “one-of-a-kind combination of cutting-edge theater, music, drama, stagecraft, choreography and more.”

In the first scene of this experimental theater piece, a man is sitting on a giant floating chair, fishing in a real body of water that looked as if built into the stage. His lure moves as a colorful fish emerges on stage, pulling the man off the chair and into the water.

He comically flails his arms, fearing he is drowning, only to realize the water is only several inches deep.

Throughout the play, the man is explaining his thoughts to the audience in a steady stream of narration. His thoughts move between trying to call someone and whether or not he should have bought so much salami.

The lead actor, Connor Graham, a junior theatre performance major, said making this production embodied the ancient Chinese proverb, “The journey is the reward.”

Graham said building the production was difficult, but beautiful and inspiring at the same time.

“I would have never been able to do it without the support of my incredible mentors, cast mates, designers, crew, and of course, Doug,” Gram said. “Making the show with Fitch was a dream come true. I am blessed to have collaborated with such a world wide respected artist who has been so graciously humble and inspiring to me from day one.”

Finch worked with the students for a few months leading up to the production.

In one scene, the ensemble performed a complex song and only used their bodies and the water as instruments. The group stomped on the ground, clapped hands and slapped the water in a carefully choreographed routine.

The imaginative song ended to the loudest applause of the night.

In the latter half of the show included a “Sensory Organ Ballet.”

A human-sized nose walked out on stage along with an ear, a mouth and an eye. The four organs performed a classical ballet, while the main character gleefully watched, occasionally joining their dance.

“The play was definitely different,” said Kaitlin Wojak, a sophomore communication psychology dual major. “I’ve been to a lot of plays but the whole look of this play is unique.”

Wojak pointed out the main character almost never talks to anyone else on stage, instead speaking his “disjointed” thoughts aloud to “no one in particular.”

The ear seemed displeased with this and comically head-butted the man onstage.

James Monahan, 31, from Long Island, New York, found the ballet to be his favorite part of the show.

“It was funny, obviously, but the different body parts performed genuinely elegant routines,” Monahan said.

The show ended with five red figures wearing Buddhist masks.

The figures performed a dance along to an original song by the composer David Cuomo called “Yamantaka” – the name of a Buddhist figure that can defeat death.

Students made the play’s various sets with the faculty’s assistance.

As the play is a visual experience, there are many varying components to the set, ranging from a cliff that turns into a boat or an erupting volcanic island.

Bassin said that it was the work of the student-led teams of builders, designers and tech that made this show possible and magical.

“A show of this scope and variety would quite literally be impossible or at the very least impossibly expensive, in a major professional playhouse, opera stage, or theater and what has been achieved here is something I’m honored to be a part of,” Bassin said.

Fitch’s vision and style of theater combined with the hard work of students and faculty created a special production in “How did we…?”

email: arts@ubspectrum.com