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News / Theater & Performance

UT’s newest theater production tackles modern issues through past scandals

Photograph: Courtesy University of Texas at Austin

The fall of the Enron Corporation was one of the biggest scandals of the early 2000s; today, the company is still held up as one of the biggest examples of modern corporate fraud and corruption. The scandal has since been explored through a number of different lenses, from books to documentaries to TV movies, but one of the most interesting perspectives comes in the form of a stage play by British playwright, Lucy Prebble.

Prebble is best known for black comedies that explore issues of sex, love and desire. Her 2009 play, ENRON, is something of a departure, as it focuses instead on the business and politics of Enron’s shady accounting, all of which led to the company’s downfall.

Starting this week, the University of Texas’ Department of Theatre and Dance will present ENRON with a unique twist—the cast is composed entirely of women and non-binary actors. We spoke to director Hannah Wolf in order to learn more about this distinctive production.

What drew you to this text at this particular moment?
It's relevant to today in how it explores the power that corporations have in the U.S. and how we see that legacy thriving through government and big business. It asks us to question what's behind the drive for more success, more innovation, more money and what happens when corporations value money over humanity.

Lucy Prebble is a British playwright looking at the rise and fall of an American corporation. Does her outsider perspective play into the text at all?
I think that her outsider perspective allowed her to really examine the "American-ness" of Enron, and she calls for many American tropes and traditions, including vaudeville, to create a myth out of the real story. I think her distance from the text allows the history to become theatrical.

How did you reach the decision to only cast women and non-binary actors in this production? Was there any pushback over this choice?
I pitched this play with this casting in October 2016, and since then the casting concept has become more and more relevant to what's happening in the world. The University of Texas at Austin Department of Theatre and Dance has always supported and championed the casting concept. I don't think that we can talk about power today without talking about race and gender, and this casting seeks to subvert what traits we recognize and champion as "successful.” I want audiences to question the role of toxic masculinity in our “too big to fail” business culture.   

How does working with student performers differ from directing professional actors?
I love working with performers in the middle of their training. While there is always some acting coaching that happens in rehearsals, these performers are open and willing to tackle the challenges of this play with a huge amount of energy. This production really flies because of how they launch into it and all that they bring to the table. It's very powerful to watch these young actors take on these roles that they've never had a chance to play.

Is there anything else you would like audiences to know?
This play physicalizes every banking metaphor it can and uses song, dance, vaudeville and humor to take the audience on a roller coaster ride through the ’90s bull market bubble. It's really fun right up until that moment when it's really not.

UT’s Department of Theatre and Dance’s production of ENRON runs Feb 22 through March 3 in the Oscar G. Brokett Theatre (located on the UT campus in the F. Loren Winship Drama Building). See website for times and ticket prices.