8 Ways ‘Upton Abbey’ is Like Nothing You’ve Ever Seen

Find out why Upton Abbey is one of the most original plays to ever hit the stage of the Annie Russell Theatre.

Rollins College students perform Upton Abbey. (Photo by Scott Cook) Rollins College students perform Upton Abbey. (Photo by Scott Cook)

It’s a parody of Downton Abbey
Upton Abbey and its wildly popular inspiration share more than similar titles. While Upton will still feel completely original, Downton Abbey fans will recognize familiar character traits and storylines from Julian Fellowes’ award-winning PBS drama. They’ll also enjoy several of the elements of Downton they’ve grown to love, including romance, dry comedy, historical relevance, and passionate characters.

Students did all of the research
Over the course of eight weeks this summer, 12 students sponsored by the Student-Faculty Collaborative Scholarship Program compiled research that informs the show’s historical context. From warfare and fashion to domestic life and technology, the students explored all aspects of life in early 20th century Great Britain to help the actors better understand the world in which they would be improvising. The researchers also compiled a final paper that was submitted to a theatrical journal.

It’s fully improvised
Virtually everything in this two-act play is improvised. The actors have established characters, but everything else is made up on the spot and the consequences are played out live for the first time right before your eyes. Because nothing is certain in the show, the stage managers and technicians will also make on-the-spot calls for sound and lighting effects as well as when to move set pieces. In fact, the offstage technicians improvise just as much as the actors onstage.

(Photo by Scott Cook) (Photo by Scott Cook)

The audience has a say in the story
Each audience gets to make an impact on the trajectory of show within the first few minutes. In fact, you’ll help determine everything from the major players to the time of day. During intermission, the audience plays playwright once more, helping decide which character will have a major calamity in their life.

Student designers play a major role
Students collaborated with resident designers and faculty to bring the world of Upton Abbey to life. Isabella Rodriguez ’s ’17 hair and make-up design helps each actor transform physically as they transition between two characters. Katie Stine ’17 helped create period-appropriate clothing for 30 characters, and Elissa Flaumenhaft ’18 collaborated with Resident Sound Designer Robert Miller to devise the play’s sound effects.

The characters are realistic and multifaceted
Every character—from the domineering yet caring patriarch to the wicked and desperate first footman—has his own original story. All 30 onstage characters were written by the student researchers to include backstory, hopes, fears, and entangling relationships. As a result, each moment onstage feels rich and detailed.

(Photo by Scott Cook) (Photo by Scott Cook)

It opens on the 98th anniversary of the armistice
Upton Abbey opens on November 11, 2016, which is the 98th anniversary of the armistice between the Allies and Germany that ended World War I, adding another layer of historical significance to the production.

It’s new every night
The play’s narrative arc unfolds over the eight-show run, so the events of each episode inform the following night’s performance. To encourage patrons to take in all eight performances, the Annie Russell Theatre Box Office is offering $5 off the price of admission every time they return to see a show.

Upton Abbey Dates and Times
Friday, November 11 at 8 p.m.
Saturday, November 12 at 8 p.m.
Sunday, November 13 at 4 p.m.
Wednesday, November 16 at 8 p.m.
Thursday, November 17 at 8 p.m.
Friday, November 18 at 8 p.m.
Saturday, November 19 at 2 p.m.
Saturday, November 19 at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $20. Discounts are available for students, seniors, and Rollins alumni. To purchase tickets, call 407-646-2145 or visit the theatre’s online box office.

(Photo by Scott Cook) (Photo by Scott Cook)