With the celebration of Cap and Bells’ 100th anniversary on Friday, three of the group’s student directors, Rob Seitelman ’01, Michael Cooper ’01 and Melissa Scuereb ’01, showed off their works to a large crowd gathered at the newly renovated Goodrich Hall. The presentations were part of the Cap and Bells “New Works” program, which gives aspiring playwrights a chance to preview their works in progress before a live audience. Despite the lack of an elaborate set or long amounts of rehearsal time, the casts of both “You’ve Gotta Grow up Sometime” and the musical “Phaedra” were able to succeed at showing off some of Cap and Bells’ great tradition of student-directed theater.
The first play was “You Gotta Grow up Sometime,” written by Rob Seitelman ’01. The one-act play was performed as “Readers Theatre,” in which the cast reads directly from the script throughout. The play, written on Seitelman’s flight back to school after spring break last year, captures the writer Rollie (Max Weinstein ’00) still pining over his first love Emily (Jessica Richman ’01). In order to get over his infatuation with Emily, Rollie writes about their relationship using fictionalized characters named Ralston (Mayur Deshmukh ’01) and Emma (Leigh Nisonson ’01). His muse, Jack (Adam Bloom ’99), encourages him to get away from his obsession and instead write new characters like the Woman (Grace Rubenstein ’01).
The play did well to mix humor with romance. The script was certainly its high point, especially the dialogue between Rollie and Jack. Certainly, anyone who has lusted for their first love can identify with Rollie’s sad situation.
In addition, the play lent itself to being read. “Rob wrote characters,” said Richman, “that were human and still eccentric and dramatic enough to come to life easily without too much delving into psyches.”
The only drawback of the play was that it was read rather than performed. While the play could still entertain in this format, much of the ambiance was lost due to the lack of a set, costumes or acting.
The other play that night, the musical “Phaedra,” aspires to follow in the great musical tradition of legendary composer and Williams alum Stephen Sondheim ’50. “Phaedra,” directed by Michael Cooper ’01 and Melissa Scuereb ’01, succeeded masterfully in enveloping the audience in a tragic love story.
The story revolves around the queen Phaedra (Emmylou Diaz ’01) who falls in love with her stepson, the Prince (Justin Deichmann ’01). When Phaedra’s husband, the King (Seitelman), finds out about this, he becomes extremely agitated and puts his son to death. The King discovers his error of his ways too late, as his son has already been killed.
Most observers of the play were left in awe of the actors’ vocal performances. The musical consisted entirely of song, with great performances delivered by Bloom as David, Diaz as the troubled queen and Hilary Ley ’01 as the queen’s helper Camille. Perhaps the most stirring of all the performances in “Phaedra” came at the end, when Deichmann resurrected himself as the dead prince haunting the halls of the King’s castle.
Clearly, though, much of the credit for the play must be given to its two student directors, Cooper and Scuereb, who composed the brilliant melodies to which the play was set upon. From the beginning, Cooper’s mastery of the piano brought the audience into the story. Cooper kept the audience interested with different, but equally powerful overtures for each scene.
The idea for “Phaedra” originated during Winter Study of last year, when Scuereb stumbled upon the script. She showed it to Cooper and they decided to translate a few scenes into songs to see if it worked.
The difficulty in making “Phaedra” was in picking and choosing parts of the story that would lend themselves to music. They decided to leave out the heavy political overtones of the play and instead concentrate on the romance involved.
The production required a lot of collaboration between the two directors. “’Phaedra’ was really a partnership,” said Cooper, “because sometimes I would write a song for the lyrics Melissa gave me, and sometimes I would ask her to write lyrics to a melody that I had already written, and sometimes we would sit down and do both at once.”
Knowing that there would be only two weeks of rehearsal time once classes started, the directors cast actors for the play last year. They then gave each of the actors in the play a recording of their part so they could practice on their own and learn the score by ear. After meeting with each of the actors individually, they ran through the full show twice before Thursday night’s performance.
Said both of their work,” Working on ‘Phaedra’ was an amazing creative experience, and New Works is good because it allowed us to try out our piece without the pressures of a fully staged production. ‘Phaedra’ taught us that we’re a great team â€” we inspire each other â€” and the past nine months have been fabulous.”
Acting in a student-written play posed a challenge for many of the actors; but was a welcome change for most.
“It was different working on a student play because there was nothing to go by,” said Nisonson.”The performance had never been executed before so it was up to all of us to make our characters.”
“I felt much more connected to the piece because it was created by someone I know,” said Rubenstein.
Cathy Nicholson ’00, who played Jessica in “Phaedra,” believed that her work in the musical enabled her to see some of the many decisions that go into the production of a play.
“Working on a new piece of theater gave me a much greater sense of appreciation for the many small decisions that must be made in order to transform a story, or even a script, into a performance piece.”
Bloom, who worked with all three directors, said. “All three directors were extremely laid back. They gave us the scripts and said, in essence, ‘Just do what you feel.’ No intense character work, no complex text analysis. We simply conveyed what we were given to the audience. It is a testament to the brilliance of the writing and the music that the actors didn’t need to do much else.”
“Rob gave only a little instruction, which I liked. There were no little director’s reminders running through my head during the performance and so I could act more naturally,” said Nisonson.
Both directors hope to capitalize on the success of these plays by expanding production on these plays later in the year. Seitelman is planning to revise his play using some of the comments he received from observers of the play Thursday night. Cooper and Scuereb also plan to change their play a bit, and to introduce costumes, lights and scenery.
Nevertheless, the New Works plays were instrumental in kicking off the 100th anniversary of Cap and Bells. A century after it was founded, the organization is still producing quality student theater productions.