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Plays to be performed in Ackland for 'Activated Art' series

To a group of playwrights, paintings and sculptures at the Ackland Art Museum are worth more than just a thousand words — they are worth a whole one-act play.

For the second year, the Ackland’s artwork will come to life through a series of five 10-minute plays performed in the museum’s galleries as a part of the “Activated Art” series.

Dana Coen, a UNC professor and series creator, said he started the event to incorporate both his loves: visual art and theater.

“I hope (the audience will) see that theater and the plastic arts have a relationship with each other,” Coen said.

These plays are an example of ekphrasis — a tradition where artworks are inspired by other forms of art.

Each play is performed in front of the piece of art that inspired it.

“The event is done like a tour and the audience moves from gallery to gallery,” Coen said.

This year’s playwrights include a student playwright, UNC professors and local authors.

Coen has a play being performed at the series, “The Spectacle of Our Misery,” which was inspired by Emile Bernard’s painting “Woman and Haystacks, Brittany.”

Coen said the play is about a poet who falls in love with a peasant woman.

He also said the plays vary from the most serious drama to the silliest comedy.

“They all found a different way into the art, so you can tell that each piece is inspired by different aspects of the work,” Coen said.

The student-written play is a new addition to this year’s series, and a playwriting competition was held to determine whose play would be performed.

Sophomore Wynton Wong won the competition for “Switch,” which is a science fiction play about the relationship between two brothers.

Wong said her play was inspired by the painting “Italy” by Elisabeth Jerichau-Baumann.

“I probably stared at that painting for three hours,” Wong said.

“But once the initial idea for the play got in my head, I didn’t really have any problem writing it.”

Wong, a communication studies major, said she had written plays before, but none of her plays had ever been performed.

“It’s amazing to see the words and the things you thought would sound cool play out in front of you,” Wong said.

Allison Portnow, public programs manager for the Ackland, said the plays are able to get to the essence of the artwork without having to delve into the history of each piece.

“They always seem to touch on something that is part of the painting or the sculpture even without having to get into the serious academic side,” Portnow said.

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She said she hopes the audience will enjoy the event as much as it did last year, in which all shows were sold out before the opening night.

“We hope people will come see the plays and see what creative things people are doing with them and how they’re responding to them and take that into their own art-looking experiences at the Ackland,” she said.

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