When a professor handed Adin Walker a copy of Tennessee Williams’ One Arm, Walker knew he wanted to tackle the play — someday.
“And then when I came here, I was like, ‘Let’s dive into it,’ ” said Walker, who is now the directing fellow at Chautauqua Theater Company.
So at 9 p.m. Friday in Bratton Theater, Chautauqua Theater Company’s conservatory actors and fellows will present One Arm as this year’s free CTC After Dark event. Based on Williams’ unproduced screenplay and short story of the same name, and adapted by playwright Moisés Kaufman, the story follows a young farm boy who joins the Navy and becomes a lightweight boxing champion, only to lose an arm in a car crash and become a hustler.
CTC conservatory actor Will Harrison will portray the lead, Ollie, and five other conservatory actors — Emily Daly, Patrick Foley, Adrianna Mitchell, Isabel Pask and Siddiq Saunderson — will round out the cast playing multiple roles.
Each summer, the CTC directing fellow has the opportunity to lead a work for the After Dark project. Walker brought a copy of the play with him, but it wasn’t until meeting the CTC actors that he decided One Arm would be the right production.
For theatergoers already familiar with the Williams canon, Walker said One Arm is a chance to see a “hidden gem” and watch for similarities to Williams’ other works, like Vieux Carré and A Streetcar Named Desire.
For Walker, his own desire to share the story goes back to his directorial goals.
“I’m really passionate about telling queer stories by queer writers about queer histories and about queer experiences,” said Walker, who called One Arm “a really early queer story in the canon of 20th-century drama.”
To help the actors get into character, Walker had his cast build “individual and group movement-based composition pieces.” He said this method was inspired by the Viewpoints technique, developed in the 1970s by choreographer Mary Overlie, and the works of director Shana Cooper, whom Walker counts as a mentor.
“And since this play lives in the mind and memories of Ollie Olsen, the main character, we are working to draw on the composition pieces to craft a movement vocabulary for moving in and out of Ollie’s conscious reality, and also for bleeding through Ollie’s memories,” said Walker, who studied dance and choreography before moving to directing.
Developing CTC After Dark has allowed the conservatory actors and fellows to work together in a more collaborative way, said conservatory actor Patrick Foley. In One Arm, Foley plays a variety of characters, who he said have or are perceived to have power over the main character.
Foley worked with Walker during CTC season opener Noises Off, for which Walker was the assistant director to CTC Artistic Director Andrew Borba. But working on One Arm has allowed Foley to see Walker run a room. He said he can tell One Arm is a passion project for Walker.
“Adin also doesn’t seem like a young director,” Foley said. “He has a kind of ease in the room that I think is rare for someone who is his age, who is our age.”
Also building the piece are the CTC design fellows: scenic fellow Amelia Bransky, lighting fellow Alex Miller-Long, sound fellow Jordan Tani and costume fellow Mari Taylor.
Through conversations with the actors and fellows, Walker and the designers realized the characters are usually interacting one-on-one. Since the main character is a former boxer, the resulting set is a sparse, tight boxing ring.
“We’re exploring what it’s like if every scene is like a boxing match,” Walker said.
Although Bransky is officially credited as the scenic designer for One Arm, she described her role as collaborating with the group to “create an environment.” She said this spirit of collaboration is one reason she was attracted to the CTC fellowship program.
“I really love this company and the people that I get to work with,” Bransky said. “I think there’s such a diverse range of artists here and people drawing from so many different experiences and so many different backgrounds. That we get to work together is really amazing. And it’s just like this brief moment in all of our lives, but it’s very intense.”