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Organizing chaos in Colleen Murphy’s newest work ‘Bright Burning’

Bright Burning
World premiere of a new play by Colleen Murphy
March 30th – April 8th
Timms Centre for the Arts
Tickets: $12 for students
More info at https://www.ualberta.ca/arts/shows/theatre-listings/bright-burning


For a human being to “burn” is for them to be ignited — to erupt with such passion that they form a fire in their heart. This ignition knows no bounds in the latest work of the U of A’s current Lee Playwright-in-Residence, Colleen Murphy.

Bright Burning, to be otherwise known as I Hope My Heart Burns First after its Studio Theatre premiere at the Timms Centre this Thursday, is a piece that encompasses the oh-so human feelings of rage, unfairness, and in the words of Murphy, the “’fuck you’ kind of stuff” that can course through our veins.

Based on the stories of a group of disenfranchised American teenagers known as Ghost Parties, who were caught breaking into and stealing from the mansions of the extravagantly wealthy, Bright Burning represents the disparity of wealth in the West. Though the elaborate crimes would sometimes go off without a hitch, the occasional selfie in the mansions would often lead to their demise. Although this crime-ridden premise may be hard to relate to, Murphy suggests the emotions that motivate the plot are not. 

“The feelings that these characters have about the rage caused by disparity between the wealthy and the non-wealthy is certainly a common one,” Murphy says. “People get very, very wealthy off of other people’s backs.”

Though these conflicts of disparity pull from what may seem to be a political place, Murphy’s intentions are not to be creating a message of any kind, but rather are a starting point for audiences to make their own judgments.

“That’s what I think theatre is,” Murphy says. “You offer something up as fulsomely as possible to an audience, and some will love it, some will hate it, some will have all of the feelings in between, and that’s all valid.”

Despite lacking a single specific message or agenda with Bright Burning, Murphy believes in the heightened political environment we face today, artists have a responsibility to do all that they can to react visibly — much like the characters in her play do.

“I think the only way (our situation) is going to change is if you put your feet on the ground, as an artist, and go, ‘fuck you, we don’t believe this, we don’t buy this, we refuse this, and we will protest this.’”

The second-to-last show that the BFA Acting class of 2017 will perform on the Timms Centre stage is a piece that was written specifically for them. And it’s been a long time coming. According to Murphy, she began planning out the show when the now-graduating class was in its first year. But even with the lengthy time taken to prepare it, Bright Burning was never seen as an easy project. Presented as only one scene that is to last for just under two hours and be performed in real time, the play has been a risk to develop.

“Creating and keeping tension in a play with two or three people isn’t hard,” Murphy explains. “But when you have 12, all together for half of the play, it’s incredibly challenging.”

With 12 characters come 12 complex humans – 12 minds, 12 histories, and 12 reactions to every event. Some of these characters feel nothing, while others have feelings too strong to bear. One thing they all have in common is their heightened passion. Murphy describes the results of these conflicting passions as tragic, very dark, very physical, and very funny.

While the show has come together to form something wonderful, it’s anything but regular. Nerve-wrackingly chaotic, all of its small pieces come together in a manner that Murphy can only explain as orchestral. Such a piece, she explains, could not be accomplished without the distinguished team of artists who are currently producing it. Being a new work, there is no map of past productions to compare this one to.

“It’s a hugely ambitious piece that is the sum of its parts, and this department is doing an amazing job with it.”

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