The intimacy of Our Town


Mark Cosgrove

Mark Cosgrove and Kamryn Dumas’s scripts

Mark Cosgrove

   “Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? – every, every minute?” (Emily Webb, Our Town)

   Our Town is a classic story with a compelling message. Written in 1938 and performed every year since, this play has stood the test of time. Our Town is not a feel-good happy show like most high school theatrical productions. 

   The nature of the story will leave the audience questioning himself and wanting more. What makes Our Town so compelling is that Our Town could be any town. This allows the audience to picture themselves in the town. 

   Our Town is their town. 

   Joe Huber directs this production.  “It’s a classic show that has been around for years.  It has been done by high schools throughout the world and is considered one of the finest shows written for the American Theater.  It was a unique experience when it was first written and that still holds true today. One of the major themes of this show is that we are so busy getting from day to day that we miss out on the little things.  We worry about our pasts or what will happen in the future and we forget to live in the moment.  The show reminds us that life is precious and that sometimes we just need to stop and smell the heliotrope.”

  Soph. Caedmon Kephart plays the stage manager. This character is set apart from the rest, in the fact that he’s not a part of the town. The stage manager is a sort of guide to lead the audience through the story. He often dismisses characters or calls them back onto the stage. He is the character that creates the time jumps and points out important aspects of the story. 

   “To me, I get to show the audience a window into 1901, but in reality, it isn’t so different to life and families today. The words might be different, but human nature never changes.” This is why Our Town is so intriguing, Our Town could be any town. 

   “Our Town is special in the sense that the nature of the play is so mundane. While the story isn’t packed with thrill or adventure, it’s filled with moments that highlight the simple pleasures of life. This story is so compelling because it makes you realize life as you’re living it. It’s simple and complex at the same time. It helps you romanticize life and makes you appreciate the little things. It makes you think – it covers a lot of deep topics.”

   The assistant director is Donald Curry, who performed in Our Town at West Ottawa during his senior year. Now getting to assistant direct this show is an incredible opportunity to come back to his roots.

    “I performed in Our Town on the WOPAC stage when I was a senior at West Ottawa, so I’ll always treasure it as my final production as a student. I fell in love with Our Town the first time I saw it. I was about 14 years old and having done theater for a few years by then, I was amazed at the concept of very little set and no props. This story is so compelling because its message still rings true. Life is short and every moment is precious. Savor, relish, and cherish life while you live it. Even the mundane days, monotony of weeks, and uneventful years should be idolized, because they are truly significant. ‘Carpe diem,’ ‘Live life to the fullest,’ and ‘It’s the little things in life that matter’ are sayings we’ve all heard. Those sayings are compelling and they are major themes in Our Town”.

   Our Town has been performed hundreds of times over the last century but in one major way, West Ottawa’s Our Town will be different from the rest.

   What West Ottawa is doing that will make our Our Town so different from other productions is that the audience will be on stage with the actors. The idea is to make the audience feel like they are a part of Our Town, villagers among the town if you will.

   Sr Kamryn Dumas believes that “The close proximity between the actors and the audience will make Our Town an incredible experience for all. I believe that the intimacy will make the actors and audience feel so much more connected to one another. The audience is essentially part of the town.” 

   Dumas plays Emily Webb. Each character in Our Town is vitally important to the show, but if there was a main character, it would be Emily. The story follows Emily’s family, the Webbs, along with their neighboring family, the Gibbs. “When I first read the script, I was underwhelmed. I didn’t understand the magic of it. When I began to research my character and the show, though, I began to see Our Town as a stroke of genius. The story focuses on two families. They live a life that many can relate to. This makes the tragedy at the end so much more relatable. The show leaves any audience with things to reflect on.” Our Town, and more specifically Emily Webb, forces the audience to realize the beauty of a regular mundane life. 

   Huber said, “One of the exciting things about the West Ottawa production is that it will have limited seating; only about 135 people will see each show.  This is because the entire audience will be sitting on stage!  To help the audience feel like they are part of the show, the audience will sit amongst the action of the play.  Actors will move in and out of the audience, interact with them, and make them feel like they are a member of the Our Town community.  We hope this intimacy will help the audience feel like they are part of the show and make it a more visceral experience for each audience member.” 

   The hope behind having the audience on stage is that it will create a much more engaging and intimate experience between the actors and the audience. The actors can talk directly to audience members, make eye contact, and interact with the crowd. 

   “When you sit in a regular theater setting, what we call proscenium, there is a divide between the actors and the audience.  The audience sits in seats and the actors are on stage.  There is not a clear and active connection between the performers and those watching the show.  By putting the audience on stage, we are hoping to break down some of those barriers so that there is a common shared experience with everyone involved.”

   So come see West Ottawa’s Our Town and be a part of Our Town. Come and connect with the actors and with the show. Pause to question the world and question yourself. Be reminded that life is precious and sometimes you just need to stop and smell the heliotrope.

   The shows will be on February 10 and 11 at 7:30 PM and February 12 at 2:30 PM. The link to buy tickets is not available yet but be on the lookout for it. Due to the audience being on stage there will be a very limited amount of tickets available so buy them quick. Follow @westottawatheater on Instagram for more information.