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An American musical in France

Forgive Tom Bunch if he should happen to gloat a little.

In the past season, the Eckerd College professor has directed a full-scale musical production based on the writings of Studs Terkel, has been invited to perform it as the first American college or university at the largest and longest-running arts festival in the world and somehow has lucked into the fest's prime-time slot.

Not bad for a first-year theater director.

Performing a final show Friday night before their departure to Avignon, France, next week, Bunch and his company will present Working, the Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso musical adaptation of Terkel's monologues of the American worker.

From steelworker to migrant worker to corporate executive, Working defines the substructure of American culture through the unedited voice of its people _ a cross-section of Americana tailored for an international festival.

"I think it's a wonderful vehicle," Bunch says. "First, the French are enamored by the American musical. They don't quite understand the genre, but they have a fascination for it and for Americans in general.

"And this particular show celebrates Americans _ it celebrates the American work ethic and is uniquely American in that all the characters are everyday folks. .

.

. I think it's an excellent piece to take."

Established in 1947 by French actor and director Jean Vilar, Festival d'Avignon brought together the most famed and firmly established companies of Europe to promote summer theater during a time that the main companies were closed, in addition to allowing companies to prepare works for the season to follow.

For more than five weeks this summer, nearly 400 productions will comprise the publicoff, or summer fare offerings, while some 30 companies will take part in the main festival.

That Bunch received the first invitation from festival organizers for an American college or university is not only a coup for himself but for Eckerd as well.

"It's been possible because I've been persistent," he explains. While first attending Festival d'Avignon in 1985, "I was blown away by it. I couldn't believe what I was seeing there in dance, music, art.

.

. it's just an enormous arts festival."

Working out of a venue with six other companies, Eckerd secured the premium show time of 7 p.m., after dinner and before the 9:30 nightfall performances, most of which will be staged outdoors.

"Our time slot is unbelievable," Bunch says, "Up at 7, down by 8:30, and our patrons can walk the few minutes across the city to see the major venues," including a Compagnie Francaise production of Don Juan and a Soviet showing of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

What is a boon for Eckerd and a handful of theater students is an opportunity for Bunch, as well.

"I hope it will let the school, and the public, know that we have some neat things to offer here," he says.

THEATER PREVIEW

Working

From the book by Studs Terkel; directed by Tom Bunch; presented by the Eckerd College Theater Department. At 8 p.m. Friday at Eckerd College's Bininger Theatre. Donations requested at the door. Call 864-8279.

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