Meeting in the Middle: The Creators of ‘Liminal’ Discuss Collaboration on the Theatrical Thriller


Cast members perform “Liminal”. (Photo courtesy of “Liminal” creators)

By Makena Reynolds, Arts Writer


As a part of the Department of Theatre’s 2021-22 season, “Liminal” premiered in Studio 115 from Feb. 24-27. With a new script written by Troy Deutsch, an alumni of the Actor Training Program at the University of Utah, “Liminal” was a cross-discipline collaboration between Flying Bobcat Co-founders Alexandra Harbold and Robert Scott Smith, and Sonia and Miriam Albert-Sobrino, known creatively as the Also Sisters.

In an interview, the creators dove into how they produced this dystopian, existential piece about liminality, the benefits of creating new work with students and where the project is headed next.

Cinematic Style On Stage

“Liminal” was an unforgettable theatrical experience, following a group of six strangers as they land in an unknown place and time. They all remember what they were doing the moment they were swept away, but have no context for how or why the change happened.

As the show runs its course, each character must face their past and viscerally relive traumatic memories in the trapped, liminal space. When their story was told, they disappeared, along with the specter-like figures surrounding the stage. Where the characters went is left unknown to the audience, at least for now.

Meeting in the Middle

The ingenuity of “Liminal” stems from its experimentation with new genres onstage. It’s not a traditional drama, but instead plays with cinematic themes from horror and psychological thriller. The Also Sisters, who have been internationally recognized for their filmmaking in fantasy and horror, aided in bringing this viewpoint to the stage. Their research as professors in the Department of Film and Media Arts at the U has also included multimedia collaboration and installation, recently seen in their film “On the Margins of Metaxy.”

The idea for “Liminal” began with the sisters, but blossomed into a three-part artistic endeavor for which they brought on Smith and Harbold, who are professors in the Department of Theatre. As theatremakers, Harbold and Smith are no strangers to collaboration. Flying Bobcat Theatre Laboratory’s mission is about creating experiential storytelling, blending text, movement and design to create new works, often with student artists. Flying Bobcat recently assisted former students in producing two original plays — “Ronald and Edith” and “Strangers: A Homo’s Odyssey” — at the Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival in 2021.

The Also Sisters and Scott decided that the end goal of the project was to find the most effective way to tell the story, and they found that thinking of film and theater as separate mediums is a hindrance to both fields. There were many ways that the project could have taken shape and, with their combined experience, the three-part theatrical and film experience was the outcome.

Educational Outcomes and Experimentation

“Liminal” acted as a creative outlet not just for faculty, but for the students cast in the project. Smith said the students contributed a great deal to the playwriting process by developing their characters’ pasts — one a famous photographer, another a high-powered CEO, another an exhausted medical resident. The characters in “Liminal” would not be who they are without the student actors, which represents the symbiotic relationship between the mentors and the mentees involved.

The Also Sisters found freedom in “Liminal” because it was an on-campus project. An institution like a university provides an environment that fosters collaboration. With a large swath of available resources, not to mention an absence of judgment since the desired outcome is not a product but an educational experience, the College of Fine Arts created a safe space for experimentation.

The Other Side of “Liminal”

In a future film project from the same creative team, viewers will get to experience the story of “Liminal” from a whole new perspective. To answer questions left from its staging, the Also Sisters confirmed the second installment of the project would focus on a police officer character introduced in the play. The on-stage characters discover her half-stuck in the ground, leaving the audience with questions about what lies on the other side of the liminal space.

The hope for this project is that it can be enjoyed by audiences who saw the first component to “Liminal,” but also will be able to exist on its own. A one-of-a-kind collaboration like “Liminal” is exciting, giving students opportunities in the devising process and establishing the U as a place where new work can take shape.

More information regarding “Liminal” can be found on the Department of Theatre’s website. These projects can be found on the Also Sisters and Flying Bobcat websites.


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