Indiana State University Newsroom

‘33 Variations' opens Oct. 16, examines parallel tales of obsession

October 1, 2014

Life is short -- and messy. It's the beauty we're able to create during this short, messy time on earth that is the topic of the Indiana State University theater department's first play this season, "33 Variations."

Written by Moisés Kaufman (of "The Laramie Project" fame), the play parallels two tales of obsession -- ailing musicologist Katherine Brandt's attempts to unearth Beethoven's drive to create "Diabelli Variations," a series of 33 variations of a simple waltz.

"Ultimately, it's not that Katherine nor Beethoven aren't people who have left scars on people in their wake, but they've also composed things of incredible beauty," said Julie Dixon, the play's director and associate professor of theater at Indiana State. "At least in the end of this play, there is grace and some light."

Cast mates say to bring tissues -- and your friends.

"The playwright beautifully weaves these things together in the story - a woman who has ALS, Beethoven and his struggle to finish the "Variations," the sense of encroaching time. I just thought it hit some notes that I had not heard before, and it really touched me," Dixon said. "There are still moments at the end -- even though, of course, I've become more familiar with it (through production) -- where I just start crying, because it's so compassionate."

Zach Van Meter, a senior theater arts major from Attica, taps into his character, Beethoven's assistant Anton Schindler, by being able to relate to their shared qualities.

"Every person is a number of things," Van Meter said. "For me, my character is mostly a caretaker, and there have been times in my life when I've had to take care of people I love, so it's not difficult for me to access this character."

Dixon describes the real-life relationship between Beethoven and Schindler as "remarkable," that Schindler worked without pay and endured much mistreatment at the hands of the composer.

"For Schindler, the payoff is the music -- the beauty of what it is that Beethoven is able to compose," she said. "I'm not particularly a music person, but as a theater artist, I can relate to a story that feels so epic and touching that you're willing to put up with any number of things to help birth it. I think that's what Schindler does - he helps Beethoven birth the variations. In this play, (Anton) is someone who is loyal beyond belief, charming, essential, amazingly able to put others before himself."

For Jessica Hall, who plays Brandt, it's harder to relate to her character, a woman battling ALS ... and her daughter.

"She's really an amazing person. Katherine is so deep on so many levels, and trying to connect with that, it's hard as an actor. You really have to cling to the things that you do connect with," said Hall, a junior theater major from Beech Grove.

A scene known as "the exam" is Hall's most difficult to portray: There's no dialogue as Katherine has medical scans performed on her chest to see how far the disease has progressed. It's a symbolic opportunity for the audience, too, Hall said.

"It's basically one of the only looks we get to see inside her in the first act and how much this is really affecting her -- both physically and emotionally -- how it's tearing her down," Hall said.

Katherine is comforted by Beethoven's music, though.

"He is my solace in this scene, he gets me through it and helps me breathe," Hall said. "(The moment) shows she really has this connection with Beethoven and the work that he does."

With such heavy themes as death and dying, there are moments of levity and romance.

"It's not a major part of the play, but there's a really nice love story. My character isn't involved in it, but I like it. I think it's really cute, and the two actors we have in it are very good," said Simon McNair, a junior theater major from Terre Haute, who stars in the role of Anton Diabelli, the composer of the waltz on which Beethoven based his variations.

Dixon first read the play two years ago when she was researching a piece for a student to perform at a festival.

"I thought it was just a beautiful play. I really connected to the ideas of what you sacrifice to follow your passion, the things that you give up to pursue something that means so much to you, the idea of racing against time, never feeling like you ever have enough time to finish what you want to do," she said.

Dixon said she hopes audience members feel a deeper connection between their fellow humans, appreciating that people are deeper than their facades -- even if it's only for the 10 minutes after the play.

"It's such a compassionate piece. It looks at people with such compassion and kindness, recognizing and honoring the struggle -- not judging them for the mistakes they make and the relationships that fall by the wayside," Dixon said. "I appreciate the grace of the piece, I appreciate the forgiveness it extends to all humans who are struggling to accomplish something in this very limited time that we have on this planet."

Next up for the theater department is "The Color Purple," Nov. 13-16. Those who are familiar with the story know there are "lots of mature themes and in some ways, a lot of the same themes (as "33 Variations") -- love and loss and standing your ground," Dixon said.

"33 Variations" plays 7:30 p.m. Oct. 16-Oct. 18 and 4 p.m. Oct. 19 in the university's New Theater. Tickets can be purchased at the New Theater box office, 536 S. 7th St. The box office will be open noon-4:30 p.m. Oct. 13-Oct. 17. Tickets are $10, or admission is free with a valid student ID.


Photos: -- Zach Van Meter, left, a senior theater arts major from Attica, stars in the role of Beethoven's assistant Anton Schindler. -- Jessica Hall, right, a junior theater major from Beech Grove, portrays Katherine Brant, a woman battling ALS. - The cast of "33 Variations" rehearses on Tuesday, Sept. 30.

Contact: Julie Dixon, associate professor of theater and head of acting at Indiana State University, 812-237-3339 or

Writer: Libby Roerig, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or

Story Highlights

"33 Variations" plays 7:30 p.m. Oct. 16-Oct. 18 and 4 p.m. Oct. 19 in the university's New Theater. Tickets can be purchased at the New Theater box office, 536 S. 7th St. Admission is free with a valid student ID.

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