Ten students, ten stories

A new ensemble performance based on medieval classic, ‘10 x 10 (or, The Decameron)’ will premiere April 22

By: Clarissa Shirley  Wednesday, April 21, 2021 05:57 PM

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artwork by Lauryn Siegel

In Giovanni Boccaccio's medieval classic “The Decameron,” ten friends live through the last moments of a horrific plague year by retreating to a rural estate for ten days and telling each other stories about intimacy and politics. 

Flash forward 670 years to another pandemic. Ten Muhlenberg College performers have retreated to Zoom for a ten-day rehearsal period to create “10x10 (or, The Decameron),” — a nuanced conversation on what they care about most at this historic (yet tedious) moment.

“All our stories definitely delve into the idea of personal vs universal,” says company member Celeste Samson. “There are some that are addressing societal issues and some bring up personal things. On a broad scale, these stories collectively are about being together in whatever way we can when times are hard.”

Theatre faculty member Ethan Philbrick directs this 21st century response to Boccaccio — not really an adaptation, he says; “The Decameron” is more of a template for the project than a script. 

“We’re using medieval text as source material, but not as a script to perform” Philbrick says. “We’re using the central premise and structure — not to bring the Middle Ages to life, but to pay attention to the resonances between the 14th century and the 21st.”

With funky modern visuals by artist Lauryn Siegel, the play will premiere April 22-23, streaming live over Zoom, as part of Muhlenberg’s Mnemonic Theatre Festival.

Philbrick hopes the Zoom medium will be an excellent modality to reflect on the losses, challenges, and resilience of the past year. 

“Zoom comes out of a problem, this is a very difficult time to make theatre, with all of the losses from the COVID-19 pandemic,” he says. “Losses of life. Loss of community. Performance is the mode of artistic expression that we’ve lost the most, and that we will keep losing. We’ve risen to the challenge of making performance online and exploring digital performance, and mediums like Zoom.” 

Muhlenberg’s mostly-virtual Mnemonic Theatre Festival continues through May. Information on all seven productions in the festival is available at muhlenberg.edu/seeashow

“10x10 (or, The Decameron)” plays Thursday and Friday, April 22-23, at 8 p.m. Eastern time. Admission is free, and performances take place online. Patrons can request free tickets at muhlenberg.edu/seeashow.

About the Muhlenberg College Theatre & Dance Department
Muhlenberg offers Bachelor of Arts degrees in theatre and dance. The Princeton Review ranked Muhlenberg’s theatre program in the top twelve in the nation for eight years in a row, and Fiske Guide to Colleges lists both the theatre and dance programs among the top small college programs in the United States. Muhlenberg is one of only eight colleges to be listed in Fiske for both theatre and dance.

About Muhlenberg College
Founded in 1848, Muhlenberg is a highly selective, private liberal arts college offering baccalaureate and graduate programs. With an enrollment of nearly 2,000 students, Muhlenberg College is dedicated to shaping creative, compassionate, collaborative leaders through rigorous academic programs in the arts, humanities, natural sciences and social sciences; selected preprofessional programs, including accounting, business, education and public health; and progressive workforce-focused post-baccalaureate certificates and master’s degrees. Located in Allentown, Pennsylvania, approximately 90 miles west of New York City, Muhlenberg is a member of the Centennial Conference, competing in 23 varsity sports. Muhlenberg is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.