Theatre honors majors shed light on creative process of projects

Over the course of the weekend, Noah Schechter ’12, Vashti Emigh ’12 and Jonathan Draxton ’12 performed their senior theatre thesis projects to a sold-out venue in the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance. I met with Draxton and Schechter to discuss their performances and creative processes.

Schechter’s M@CB#!H is a Shakespearian Pagliacci, a “cirque du Macbeth” morbid comedy that is the culmination of his theatre major, infusing Macbeth’s crepuscular world with a clown show. “A lot of the work I’m interested in now is looking at classical texts or works that loom large in the American consciousness and taking an irreverent twist on them,” Schecter said. His play is about violence and murder, but it is intertwined with a macabre sense of humor as the clowns continue to both perpetrate and suffer gruesome acts of violence.

“The inspiration for me was the idea of Macbeth as a cursed play,” Schecter said. “Originally I proposed to do a full production of the play with the department, but instead I imagined a world where Macbeth crept into the world of the people performing it. It’s been said that Macbeth is a cursed play, so evil that every performance of it actually brings evil into the world. I took a literal interpretation of that and imagined a group of people who end up cursed with the play.”

True to its origin as a clown show, however, it was wrought with the intent of making the audience laugh. “People never think Macbeth is funny,” Schecter said. “I read it and thought it was this sort of absurd fate that awaits all the characters, and I thought that would connect perfectly to clowns.”

Schecter started his acting career at the College with Cap and Bells, beginning as an actor in his freshman year and moving on to directing the next. He further refined his skills through his theatre and design courses, and he recently worked over the summer at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Mass., which exposed him to the clown training that influenced his senior thesis. “Between that and the improv comedy done at Williams, all of that came together in this project,” Schecter said.

Nonetheless, M@CB#!H was hardly an independent project; Schechter generated the play right alongside the performers. Last semester, they developed the clown characters, improvisation and general base work of the play. The crew  experimented with the storyline and determined which moments of Macbeth were particularly well suited to the farcical piece. “I am incredibly grateful to the theatre department,” Schecter said. “The opportunity that they gave me and the resources that were made available for my thesis were staggering. The professors were coming up with these brilliant solutions that made my ridiculous ideas possible, and the extremely gifted group of student designers and managers who made this happen could very well go out into the world and start a professional theater company. I would have been completely lost without their guidance along the way.”

Draxton is an undeniable veteran of the theatre: He started acting at the tender age of 10, and by 13, he was tackling Shakespeare for the first time as Richard the Third. He adopted a very different approach in his performance: The Draxtonian Method merged the scholarly dimension and the creative, practical aspects of being a theatre major. “I had this academic paper, but I wanted to present something so I thought about venues for acting and came up with something like a TED Talk to shed some light and raise some questions about acting, as well as give my own personal approach to acting,” Draxton said. “And hopefully entertain you as well.”

Draxton demonstrated his personal acting method by giving a speech from Edward IV and discussing the immense physicality involved in acting. He went so far as to strip to his boxers in his demonstration of how one would play the famously malformed Elephant Man by breaking down how one can create bodily motions that replicate non-existent deformities. The culmination of Draxton’s thesis will be a performance of his play Soldier, which will be open from the end of April until the first week of May.

He excitedly gave an enticing introduction to his work in progress:  “A Waffen-SS officer stands on the banks of the river Styx, soliciting audience members for coins so that he and his platoon can cross the river and pass into oblivion.” Draxton will have his unfortunate soldier engage in conversation with the audience, slowly unveiling his relationship with his past, his father and his motherland, Germany. The piece will consider “war as a human endeavor,” and delve into many questions that Draxton himself has toyed with: “What does war do to a man? Why are we drawn to it? Is it possible to feel empathy for the enemy in war and the aftermath of war? And what do we risk when we feel, or withhold, that empathy?” He said that he hopes to pursue a career in acting, whereas Schecter said he is looking to continue both writing and directing.