'Easy Rider for Millennials' Closes Summer Circle Season

Jun 22, 2017

Mark Colson has been a professor with the MSU Department of Theatre for 6 years and still visits stages like the Williamston Theatre, Chelsea’s Purple Rose Theatre, as well making TV appearances in 'Parks and Recreation,' 'Banshee,' and 'Mad Men.' But this summer, he’s taking MSU’s Summer Circle Theatre on the road, but without ever leaving campus.

[Audio from the play Bike America in which they yell their make and model of bicycles.]

We learn quickly that Penny, the main character of the play Bike America, might be over her head.

["Huffy I picked up at Target! Oh, is that a good one?!?"]

"I look at this play as being a Millennial's On The Road or Easy Rider." says director of MSU Summer Circle Theatre’s Bike America, Mark Colson. "You know, I'm sure there are some films out there that, you know, address that. But, I mean, every generation's had their own what I would say Easy Rider. You know, and that kinda maybe started it off, or I guess it was On The Road that started it all off. And so, yeah, that's sort of the way that I look at this and it's definitely, you know, built in with some humor in the piece, probably moreso than those pieces [On The Road/Easy Rider] are, and we understand right at the beginning where the play is going to end and I'm not going to give anything away, but it's a very strange and odd way to start the play, but you understand what's going to happen what's going to happen to our lead character right from the beginning and then we probably forget about that and then obviously that hits us like a Mack truck at the end."

I asked Prof. Colson "How do you impart those cultural touchstones like On The Road and Easy Rider to students that may not be aware of them?"

You need to produce your own work, direct, because that's where the business is going. - MSU's Mark Colson

"Most of them, I want to say, were aware of On The Road and Easy Rider because four of my students are grad students, so they're a little bit older." Says Colson. "Also, Easy Rider is one of the films that I highlight in all of my classes, and so I think probably all of, you know, somewhere along the line in the three classes that I teach as far as, you know, on-camera acting is concerned, everybody's seen Easy Rider just because it was really the start of independent film. That Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper wanted to create something outside of the Hollywood studio system, they wanted to create something of their own. And so I just, you know, as far as film is concerned and storytelling is concerned, you know, that's really one of the platforms that I stand on here at Michigan State: That you need to create your own work. You need to write your own work. You need to produce your own work, direct, because that's where the business is going. [You] can put it on YouTube, Vimeo, you know, all of those places, but yeah, it's kind of, you know, required viewing for all my students."

The playwright of Bike America, Michael Lew recommends stationary bikes to be used in this cross-country play which Penny embarks upon. But because MSU’s Summer Circle Theater is outdoor, that provides the possibility of using real bikes in this production as well, something that MSU Bikes and the Lansing Bike Co-Op helped out with.

"We use… they *are* stationary bikes, and they are real bikes at the same time. So we have trainers that the bikes are hooked up to. You see one or two people riding their bike during the show. But it's difficult to get the bikes on trainers, and so we just leave them once we get them on the trainers, we have a tendency to leave them there. But I think that people will see the show and they will lose track of the trainers."

The MSU Summer Circle Theatre’s production of Bike America is a free outdoor event running now through Saturday. It’s held just outside of MSU’s Fairchild Theatre, but if it rains, the show moves inside the Fairchild. Visit theatre.msu.edu for more information about this Summer Circle Theater production.