When Ohio State theatre professor Lesley Ferris first had the idea of a production about World War I, she understood there was not a way to totally encapsulate the whole war in a 90-minute show. But one thing she wanted to do, with the help of students, was to make sure the show introduced audiences to a different side of the war.

The Department of Theatre’s “Forbidden Zones: The Great War,” which was created and co-directed by Ferris, along with associate professor of theatre Jeanine Thompson, opens Wednesday. The show brings to light the importance of women in the war and how artists and photographers were also on the battlefield, Ferris said.

The performance is the culmination of a year’s work of research on World War I by MFA students in the theatre department. After assessing the research, the students were then tasked with writing scenes based on their findings.

“Lesley and I have guided their research, but what is actually on the stage is the work that the students have created,” Thompson said. “So, we finessed it. We have tried to make it work as best as possible.”

This isn’t the first time Ferris and Thompson have worked together. The two also worked together on a similarly devised work called the “Camouflage Project” in which students wrote scenes from research they collected.

“Theater is the art form of collaboration, and this is an extreme aspect of that,” Ferris said. “Normal collaboration is with the existing script that is already written. With this, there is no script, but there is a conceiver and directors who are going to guide people in focusing on the work.”

Ferris, along with nine MFA students, spent a total of six days in Europe last June researching the war. They spent three days in London and three days in France at various onsite locations and museums from the war.

Ferris said the trip made things more personal for the students.

“I think the students’ generation is a lot more well aware of what happened through World War II than World War I, through the news and such,” Thompson said.

Elizabeth Girvin, a fourth-year in psychology and theatre, said the cast members switched roles before settling on their characters.

It’s been a busy rehearsal process and one of the most unusual that I have experienced,” Girvin said in an email. “All in all, the process has been a valuable learning experience, and while the topic is not a happy one, we’ve managed to have fun.”
The Forbidden Zones begins Wednesday at 7:30pm, at the Drake Performance and Event Center’s Ray Bowen Theatre. Tickets are $15 for students and $20 for the general public, available through the Ohio State Theatre Ticket Office.

(L to R) Caleb Naugle, Elizabeth Girvin, Kahla Tisdale, members of the ensemble, in The Ohio State University Department of Theatre’s production of Forbidden Zones: The Great War. Credit: Courtesy of Matthew Hazard