'A Thousand Words' Production Still

To kick off its 2019-2020 season, the Nebraska Repertory Theatre produced adaptations of established plays like “The Legend of Georgia McBride” and “The Glass Menagerie.” For its first show this semester, however, The Rep chose to create something entirely original with “A Thousand Words,” showing nine performances from Feb. 14-23.

“A Thousand Words” combines photography, personal stories and over 100 puppets to weave an original tale about discovering what matters most in life. The show is a devised theater production, which director Andy Park described as a work that the cast and crew put together  from nothing.

“Most of the time, when you start working on a production, the one given that you have is a script,” Park said. “Usually, before the show is even cast, the designers and the director [are] all working on a script that has been written. In a devised theater process, the designers and the actors actually work together from scratch. It's a form of collaborative theater making, where everyone is involved with creating the script and the concept of the show and the execution all together from zero.”

The process for creating “A Thousand Words” started last fall when Park taught a University of Nebraska-Lincoln class with around 15 student cast and crew members to start conceptualizing the production. Park said he led the group in improvisational exercises and other creative techniques to help brainstorm the plot of the show. 

The group settled on basing their show around the common phrase “A picture is worth a thousand words.” By the new year, Park said they developed most of the script and began formal rehearsals once classes started. Park said the show came together in ways that he hadn’t anticipated, as the original concept of using mostly individual monologues gave way to a more traditional narrative method.

“One of the interesting things about devised theater is it really, truly has a life all its own,” he said. “When you go into the process, you can think you know what's going to happen, but undoubtedly, what you think is going to happen, doesn't.”

Previously working as the artistic director for Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium and Quest Theatre Ensemble, Park is in his third year in that same role at The Rep. He said “A Thousand Words” has emerged as one of his favorite productions throughout his many years of working in the performing arts.

“It’s something that is stunningly beautiful,” he said. “And in my career, it's one of the productions I'm most proud of. What this group of students created is, quite frankly, astounding.”

Park said he is excited for audience members to see what the group put together, showcasing the UNL students who provided major contributions to the finished product.

“What people are about to see is the power of our students and the strength of the [UNL theater] program,” he said. “That's what this show really utilizes. This show is created by our students, and I'm really, really, really proud of them. This is one of the hardest kinds of theater that you can do. [It’s] what I believe will become the most memorable show of The Rep’s season.”

With an interdisciplinary, original production, Park said he hopes audiences will be moved by what he and his cast and crew have created. 

“I think that people are going to be deeply moved by the story, and it's kind of funny because you typically think of puppetry as lighthearted and silly and funny, and certainly the show has those elements,” Park said. “But then you're watching it and all of a sudden you're like, ‘Oh my goodness, I'm in a puppet show. Why am I feeling something? Why am I tearing up? Why am I getting emotional?’ It speaks to the power of theater, the power of devised theater and also the power of puppetry.”

“A Thousand Words” will be performed nine times from Feb. 14-23 at the Howell Theatre in the Temple Building. Tickets can be purchased online.