The Russian Revolution Comes To OU

Theater students at Oakland University brought George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” to life, starting a discussion of government corruption.

On Nov. 13, OU’s Company Class performed the first showing of “Animal Farm” in Varner’s Lab Theater, a performance in which the students not only acted, but also built the set.

A panel by the Political Science Honors Society followed the first performance.

“We’re putting on the show, but we’re also doing design stuff,” said Alaina Whidby, a musical theater major at Oakland who played the storyteller and was a dramaturg. “We’re doing tech jobs, marketing, that sort of thing.”

The production was an adaptation of Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” an allegorical story that uses barnyard animals to demonstrate the events leading up to the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Stalinist era of the Soviet Union, bringing up themes of corrupt government, an uneducated or passive population and having a revolution where best intentions become polluted.

“We see it in their world, and we see it today in the United States,” Whidby said. “It’s a story about the Russian Revolution, but these themes come up in our society. We like to think that we’ve gotten past corrupt government and we’ve gotten past dictatorships. But, if we really look at our world, there are a lot of things that we need to fix.”

Students took great care in representing these themes in a powerful, simple way.

“It demanded that we stay simple,” said Anthony Guest, an associate theater professor at OU and the director of “Animal Farm.” “There are minimal props and minimal costumes. What becomes more important is the language in the story, not the lights and costumes.”

The actors did not dress like farm animals. Instead, the horse characters wore overalls and braided their hair and the pigs wore business suits.

“We wanted to make the point that humans are animals,” Whidby said. “There is that animal instinct inside of us and it just takes a spark to bring it out.”

Whidby played the part of the storyteller, which initially placed humans seen in everyday life into the world of “Animal Farm.”

Truly bringing to light the storytelling and whimsical aspect of the play was important for the production as well.

“It starts out as ‘oh, this is going to be a cute little story about some farm animals,’ which is the way revolutions start,” Guest said. “There is a romantic sense of starting anew.”

The political climate today has fostered the productions of many politically strong plays such as “Animal Farm.”

“There’s a reason these plays are being done now,” Guest said. “Artists want a voice. You didn’t see many of these productions before.”

Themes of corrupt government, seen in Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” can be seen today as it was during the time of the book’s publication, allowing viewers to view the production in a different light based on the time that they live in.

“I hope that no matter how they feel, it gives them some pause and makes them think about their situation and their life if they do feel that the problems that we bring up in Animal Farm affect them,” Whidby said. “I hope that makes them think about it.”

“Animal Farm” has ine more showing at OU on Nov. 15, and then will travel to 20 Front Street in Lake Orion for one more showing.