No Refund Theatre Presents: ‘Around The World In 80 Days’

No Refund Theatre returns with the fourth production in its fall catalog. This week, the organization presents “Around the World in 80 Days.” 

Directed by fourth-year student Olivia Black, “Around the World in 80 Days” tells the story of Phileas Fogg, a wealthy English gentleman chasing his passions across the globe in 1872. Written for the stage by Mark Brown based on the novel by Jules Verne, the script serves as a fictional work of laughter, romance, and suspense through each act.

After chumming it up with his friends at the club, Fogg finds himself trying to prove a risky wager possible — traveling around the world in just 80 days. Adding another layer to the story, a local bank robbery miraculously leaves no true evidence behind except for key details pointing to Fogg as the prime suspect, right as he begins his travels. Flanked by Detective Abigail Fix each step of the way, Fogg still sets out to take on the high seas with his servant, Jean Passepartout, an eccentric Frenchman, and the race begins.

As Fogg and his servant meet 39 unique characters while stopping at 10 global destinations, a clear lesson emerges from the story: While we may dream of reaching our final destination, it’s the journey along the way that we’ll always remember the most. 

Remembering her own journey to directing at Penn State, Black found inspiration for the show close to home, bringing the script to NRT as a challenge for this season. 

“My whole family has done theater my whole life and it’s always been a family thing,” Black said. “I just remember thinking this show was the coolest show in the world because my dad was up there playing twenty different people.”

Proposing “Around the World in 80 Days,” Black knew difficult character work came along with the period piece. With a small cast of only five actors, an entire world is created with a variety of diverse locations presented onstage, but Black also recognized that her cast was ready to bring the work to life. 

“This is something that I think is a welcome challenge for NRT,” Black said. “It’s all these seasoned actors that are just waiting, chomping at the bit for something that they want to do… They want something different and they want something new.”

Tackling this challenge in their role playing 15 different characters, second-year student Robin Goodfellow explained the teamwork aspect behind getting the job done.

“I had a lot of help with the AD’s just figuring out lines and helping me with accents,” Goodfellow said. “Genuinely, they were some of the nicest and most caring people.” 

Telling the story of character development from the other lens, second-year Charlie Plante explained their approach to aiding actors in their process.

“In rehearsal, we’d say ‘Alright well, walk like your character,” Plante said. “….Let’s take this one step at a time.” 

The directing team also revealed a variety of technical and scenic elements spotlighted in the production. From detailed costuming authentic to the 1800s to full-fledged crashes of lightning lit dramatically, the spectacle is designed to immerse viewers in the action.

Updating the script for a modern audience, Black also added elements of gender-bent casting, nods to the popular music hits of today, and even a bit of Penn State pride in a jungle scene.

“Our techies were like, “What if we put in the Nittany Lion roar that they play?” Black said. “I enjoyed putting in that little Penn State twist and a little personal touch, kind of really making it our own and making it special.” 

Contrasting with these dramatic elements, the physical set is quite simple, made up of just seven suitcases and one large trunk. The suitcases are rearranged scene by scene as the building blocks of Phileas’ story to symbolize the structured elements of one’s character constantly adapted by life’s changing circumstances

“It was so fun trying to figure out a way to stack them and put them in just the right spots,” said Black. “Just kind of being really creative with it.”

In one standout moment from the script, the blocks are arranged to represent the characters traveling by elephant in India, strategically organized with costume pieces placed to convey the action in a modern take. 

Reflecting on this artistic freedom, fourth-year Loulwah Redwan shared her unique perspective on the expression onstage. An international student traveling to the United States from Saudi Arabia, Redwan is new to No Refund Theatre this year but felt included in the club right from the start.

“It’s my first ever show since the eighth grade,” Redwan said. “I wanted to try something new before I graduated, so I told myself, ‘Let me just go audition, and if I get it, I get it, or if I don’t — it’s okay.’” 

“At home, there’s not a lot of opportunity for theater and if there is, it’s kind of censored,” Redwan said. “The shows here are really out of this world and it’s not something that I’m used to. They are really creative.”

Playing the leading role of Phileas alongside NRT veterans and newcomers, fourth-year Jason Scansaroli spoke about his experience in the part. A musician and director often in practice, Scansaroli reflected on his journey back to the stage, pursuing the same type of passion also demonstrated by Phileas Fogg’s voyage across the globe. 

“Unfortunately when COVID hit, I just found it very difficult, and I had just kind of lost the passion,” Scansaroli said. “This was the first time in a long time that I’ve done a straight play with no music involved.”

“For me, theater has always been a social thing, the people and the places I’ve gotten to go,” Scansaroli continued. “It’s all amazing.”

Opposite of Phileas onstage, third-year Ella Bradner shared her experience in the gender-bent role of Detective Fix as she acts alongside Scansaroli.

“We turned Fix from someone who’s daft and bad at their job to a girl just trying to make it in the field in the 1800s,” said Bradner. “She’s now this person just trying to get her work done.” 

Formerly playing a role of similar virtue in NRT’s production of She Kills Monsters last spring, Bradner revealed her take on the value of playing the villain once again.

“I’ve always been a firm believer that villains are the best characters in any story,” Bradner said. “They are the most interesting, so it’s been very fun to take on and keep playing the villain.” 

Breaking down complex character updates with the cast, the directing team worked closely together to create the finished piece, as Black enlisted the assistance of assistant directors Charlie Plante and Ian Dargitz. 

“Liv was kind of unique in how much she really wanted to include Chuck and I,” said second-year Ian Dargitz. “She gave us a lot of opportunities…and it was just a really great experience to be entrusted with that much and given such a voice.” 

Black explained her philosophy for the long ride from auditions to opening night, which includes prioritizing teamwork.

“I was one to say many times, ‘This isn’t my show, this is our show,’” Black said. “I wanted this to be a collaborative experience and something we can all be proud of.”

Reflecting on this teamwork approach, second-year Meera Gupta shared a final hope for this weekend’s audience. 

“I just want it to be an opportunity for the audience to forget about whatever’s happening and just have two hours to laugh, be silly, and be absorbed in this little world we’ve created,” Gupta said. 

Three performances of “Around the World in 80 Days” will play at 8 p.m. on Thursday, October 6, Friday, October 7, and Saturday, October 8, in Forum 111. A trigger warning is emphasized for brief depictions of violence.

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About the Author

Lizzie Palmieri

Lizzie is a senior majoring in Marketing and Psychology from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Ask her about Disney World, Diet Pepsi, or dancing on the Jumbotron at Beaver Stadium. When not causing general trouble, Lizzie enjoys playing golf, performing in the theatre, and being the CEO of reorganizing the fridge. Her favorite thing to do is hang out with her sassy sidekick, 19-year-old Italian Greyhound, Macaroni. Follow her on Twitter @lizziepalmieri if your deepest desire is bestie vibes only.

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