If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a noise?
If a poem is written, but never shared with a reader, is it truly a poem? What is art without an audience?
The latter questions form the heart of Joan Ackermann’s “Ice Glen,” whose Baylor Theatre production opens a seven-performance run on Tuesday.
Ackermann’s 2008 play concerns Sarah Harding (AnnaMae Durham), a gardener who lives and works at a somewhat isolated estate in western Massachusetts in 1920. She writes poetry, but rarely shares it. Editor Peter Woodburn (Andrew Sabonis-Chafee), however, is impressed when he sees a sample of her writing sent in by a neighbor and makes the trip to persuade her to publish in his magazine.
She has no intent of putting her work out for others to read, and thus starts a dance between Harding and Woodburn, one complicated by the others who live at the estate, widowed owner Dulce Bainbridge (Lily Howard), butler Grayson (Daniel Seavers), cook Mrs. Roswell (Jessica Bean) and local resident Denby (Chase Ellsworth).
The play’s characters may not want to face it, but change, like the springtime at Ice Glen, a nearby valley where snow lingers past winter, is approaching for all them.
Baylor theater graduate student and director Cooper Sivara said that on the surface, “Ice Glen” feels like a period comedy, “like a light ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ ” but a second look finds deeper meaning in questions of art, creation, audience and change.
“The core of the play for me is about sharing that part of yourself that you keep to yourself,” he said. “What does that vulnerability cost? . . . Who are you creating art for and when does it become something that others start to own?”
Those are essential questions for an actor, too, said Sivara, 29, who studied acting at the University of California at Los Angeles and directed in LA for several years before starting graduate studies in directing at Baylor. “How can you be honest onstage in a way that’s totally truthful?” he said.
Just as the characters in “Ice Glen” change from learning from each other, Sivara involved his design crew — scene designer Brad LaMotte, costumer Talbot Jenkins, musical director Caroline Munsell, lighting designer Kiersten Mathis and sound designer Ryan Joyner — early in discussions with actors.
The expanded discussion from those tasked with creating the play’s look and sound, the latter including Munsell’s original music, resulted in a richer, more complex production with plenty to think about after the final curtain, he said.