Final undergraduate workshop production of fall semester inspires new perspective of biblical history

Sawdust is a workshop play with a cast and creative team of undergraduate students at the University of Iowa. It follows Jevud, a ‘parallel Jesus figure,’ and reflects how people claimed to be messiahs similar to biblical stories.


Braden Ernst

John Orlet (right) and Ben Heirigs (left) act out an interlude in their play “Sawdust” on November 17th, 2021. The play is written by Val Timke and co-directed by Katie Redden and Kiley Rowe will premiere Friday, November 19th, at 8:00PM.

Cassandra Parsons, Arts Reporter

For the Theatre Department’s final workshop production of the semester, undergraduate playwright Val Timke will take audiences in the Theatre Building’s Alan MacVey Theatre back to biblical times.

The play, titled Sawdust, tells the story of Jevud, a “parallel Jesus figure” who interacts with biblical history as it is traditionally written. The play also features St. Augustine, a character based on the real life Saint Augustine of Hippo, who wrote the autobiographical work Confessions about his conversion to Christianity. The character works on the book during the play, according to the play’s synopsis.

Timke, an English and creative writing major, has a second major in religious studies. Her workshop play is co-directed by fellow undergraduate students Katie Redden and Kiley Rowe. In fact, all members of the cast and creative team are UI undergraduates.

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The play was written to reflect how other people living at the time Jesus lived claimed to be messiahs similar to the biblical stories, Rowe said. Throughout, St. Augustine gives the audience another perspective as Sawdust narrates how Jevud is left out of history due to other characters claiming to be messiahs.

Of the undergraduates who make up the play’s cast, several are freshmen, who Rowe praised for their natural talents and curiosity.

“They came in with lots of questions, lots of things were very foreign to them,” Rowe said.

Workshop plays have a lower budget, so the play had to work through limitations, like assembling costumes and sets. Workshops are allowed to use props and have assistance from UI faculty members within the department.

Rowe said the play has been challenging for the team, and it felt like a long road from the beginning of the process.

For Sawdust, many of the cast members take on multiple roles because the play’s extensive character list, but the smaller ensemble allowed the creative team to have more time to work with individual actors.

“For our particular team, we needed to have less people to dedicate to more individual people,” Rowe said.

Rowe said that the cast was able to perform off-book much faster than expected, with everyone in the workshop very dedicated to putting on a good performance.

Katie Redden, one of the directors of Sawdust, said she’s enjoyed working with everyone involved in the play.

“It’s just been really fun because everybody brings in their own creative ideas. Just because they’re undergrads, that doesn’t really mean anything because everyone’s extremely talented.”

Tickets for workshop performances are free. Sawdust will be performed at the Alan MacVey Theatre on Nov. 19 and Nov. 20 at 8 p.m.