The scene at Buchanan Park late at night several weeks ago must have been quite a sight: more than a dozen Franklin & Marshall students rolling down a hill, their bodies at the mercy of gravity. And later, the students’ voices booming across campus, echoing among Franklin & Marshall’s historic brick buildings.
For Jon Foley Sherman, it was the perfect rehearsal.
Foley Sherman, who recently joined F&M as visiting assistant professor of theatre, is directing the students in Franklin & Marshall’s production of the Greek tragedy Electra. The show premieres Thursday, Oct. 27, at 7:30 p.m. in the Roschel Performing Arts Center, with performances following on Friday, Oct. 28 (7:30 p.m.), Saturday, Oct. 29 (7:30 p.m.), and Sunday, Oct. 30 (2 p.m.). Tickets are $5 for students, $7.50 for college employees and $10 for off-campus patrons, and are available online.
The students’ rehearsal at Buchanan Park provided a glimpse of Foley Sherman’s take on Electra—bold, intense and full of movement. Foley Sherman chose Sophocles’ version of the ancient story because it is “the least forgiving and the most relentless.”
“In directing, I emphasize working with the physical body,” Foley Sherman says. “I want to use the body to transpose our experiences. Movement and creativity are what I’m really after.”
Electra stars Katie Le Dain ’12 in the title role, along with a powerful 12-member chorus. The ensemble-based nature of the production is important to its director. “I try to create an atmosphere in which everyone takes responsibility for the piece,” Foley Sherman says. “I wanted a large chorus. Sophocles had 15 members of the chorus, and we have 12. It’s unusual for a Greek tragedy on American stages to have such a large chorus of women.”
With its lead character struggling to understand her commitments to the living and the dead, Electra raises questions about identity, mourning and violence. Electra “tears herself to pieces” trying to honor the memory of her father, Foley Sherman says. “This raises difficult questions about how to remember those we’ve lost.”
An award-winning actor and deviser, Foley Sherman earned his Ph.D. at Northwestern University before completing a two-year program at L’Ecole Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq. He has performed and directed in New York, Washington, D.C., Switzerland and Chicago, and is co-founder of Sprung Movement Theatre, artistic director of Elbow Room Performance and an associate artist with Lucky Plush Productions.
Foley Sherman has wide-ranging experience in theatre, having performed street theatre in the Alps; directed The Real Inspector Hound at Beloit College; and performed as a clown in And I with Sprung Movement Theatre, among scores of other shows.
The core principles of movement, observation and precision have been the keys to Foley Sherman’s career. He sees meaning in the smallest details—even the incorporation of dirt on the stage for Electra. “I wanted a difference between the ground and the palace,” he says. “Electra is forced to live in the palace, but she wants to be in the dirt. When she goes up the steps, she soils them.”
Next week, audiences will have a chance to find meaning for themselves as they watch Electra on the F&M stage. “I want the audience to come in as curious and as available as our cast members, who’ve really opened themselves,” Foley Sherman says. “This has rocked our cast. We’ve had extremely emotional rehearsals. For the audience, this could be an incredibly rewarding experience.”