The Artist Formerly Known As: Eva Flamm

When Cap and Bells’ Lights Out opens this Friday at 8 p.m. in the Adams Memorial Theater, the play’s writer and director, Eva Flamm ’10, will likely mark the occasion by donning a Groucho Marx moustache.

If you know her, it’s a move that encapsulates a lot about the actress, writer, director and biologist, even if she selects a scarf and sunglasses instead: to arrive in disguise at her own premier is a reflection of that mix of baffling creativity, zaniness and mystery that is singularly Eva Flamm. And if you don’t know her – well, you should.

How does Flamm depict the act of selecting to major in theater? “I took the plunge and crossed the Rubicon,” she said, laughing but serious as well – the decision to step into a famously uncertain profession has yielded a fair amount of flack from family members. She plans to attend film school after graduating and to make writing and directing her life.

“If I’d been born a couple of thousand years ago, I would have wanted to be a bard,” she said. “What I want is to make the audience access magic through a story.”

She has also always been fascinated with biology and physiology and it’s obvious in the way she narrates her own theatrical life. During warm-ups for rehearsal, she tells her actors to stretch their posterior deltoids or press their scapulae together. And to describe her writing process, she said, “I have a long gestation period but a short labor.”

The pregnancy metaphor is certainly true of her latest brainchild. The characters of Lights Out first came to life in a 10-minute one-act that Flamm wrote during the Williams College Summer Theatre Lab in 2007. After spending this past summer procrastinating working on the play, Flamm finished it in one night when she returned to school this fall.

The show is an exploration of children’s superstitious bedtime rituals and how their fears about death and the dark play out. Flamm explained that she inspired by her own intensely superstitious childhood.

The fact that Flamm translates her experiences into her art is made all the more compelling by the inspiringly curious way that she lives her life. Flamm is a rampant adventurer and delights in the discovery of secret fields, floors and roofs around and away from campus. You may have seen her lolloping around the streets in the middle of a snowstorm at 3 a.m., and it is this kind of boldly unique energy that makes its way into her shows.

Lights Out is Flamm’s second go at writing and directing a play. The End, a smaller production in Perry House last spring, was an existential examination of the death of an author who has a habit of killing off all of his fictional characters. With this current show, Flamm has the support of Cap and Bells and will see her show go up in the ’62 Center’s Adams Memorial Theater, a significantly larger venue than the Goat Room.

Her production team – lighting, costume, graphics, trailer filming and set design and building – are all close friends, as were the people who helped her turn Lights Out from idea to reality.

“I’m so lucky to be writing here because I have friends who will read the play immediately,” she said. She invited a congregation of trusted critic-friends to read one copy of the finished draft of Lights Out, passing each page along to the next person as they sat in her former faculty apartment Greylock double. Flamm observed where her friends laughed, gasped and were not moved to respond, and worked on revisions accordingly. The third act of the three-act show she did not actually complete until after she had selected her cast and begun rehearsals.

The reason to be a playwright instead of, say, a novelist, she pointed out, was to work with actors. “It’s about watching the actors and getting ideas,” she said. In the script, she has written out meticulous stage directions mirroring her original writer’s vision, but as a director instructs her actors to ignore the written blocking and to discover the gestures which feel natural to them. “What you see in your head, it doesn’t happen that way on stage,” she said. “The actors will tell you parts of the story you didn’t know were there.”

Originally from upstate New York, Flamm lived a year in Estonia as a child and spent her senior year of high school in Thailand. Already having lived abroad, she opted to spend her junior year at Williams, and has three more plays lined up to be written and produced over the next three semesters.

I had the fortune of sharing Acting I class with Eva Flamm two years ago, and even as a first-semester freshman, she was obviously on her way. Instead of performing the assigned lines from Shakespeare plays like the rest of the class, she would instead raise her hand and ask if it was alright if she did a scene from something she wrote herself. And there, in the light of a Monday afternoon in the Directing Studio, Eva would present her original monologues and blocking to a bewildered class. Her perseverance in sharing her private creativity has jettisoned her to the ranks of first-rate Williams theater-makers, but I have a feeling that this is only the beginning.

Lights Out runs this Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 8 p.m. in the Adams Memorial Theater. Tickets are $3 and can be reserved by emailing LightsOutWilliams@gmail.com