New campus theatre company to present ‘The Bachelor LIVE!’

Lily Goldberg

Move over Dylan Barbour ’16 — there’s a new Williams bachelor in town, and he’s ready to become your one-in-five.

Tomorrow evening at 9 p.m., nearly a dozen women will compete for the affection of one man in The Bachelor LIVE!,  an experiment in live reality television on our very own campus. Does this make you uncomfortable? It’s supposed to.

The Bachelor LIVE!  is the first performance by a new campus theatre company, Live Animals Onstage!, the brainchild of Fiona Selmi ’21 and John Murphy ’21. Though Selmi and Murphy are both on the board of Cap & Bells, Live Animals Onstage! is not a dependent of Cap & Bells, but a company-in-residence within the larger organization. Selmi proposed the concept of a company-in-residence after noticing that there were few opportunities to create more informal performances within the theatre scene at the College.  

“The impetus behind [Live Animals Onstage!] was creating art in a different context than we usually get to create at Williams,” Selmi said. “We wanted it to be about the people in the room, we wanted it to be about the process, we wanted it to be less high stakes than a normal rehearsal room, and we wanted to think about work that’s not dependent on a script.” Cap & Bells’ misfortunes with licensing approvals in their fall season, as well as the theatre department’s issues with copyright infringement in last season’s The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, are reason enough to think that putting up “work that’s not dependent on a script” might just be a winning idea.

Unlike traditional theatre rehearsals, where cast members partake in tech, blocking and line memorization, Live Animals Onstage! creates its work collaboratively. “We decided to follow a rock band model in which we think about work like producing singles or producing albums with the same group of people,” said Selmi. Rather than rehearsals, the company’s meetings are called “jam sessions.” Members are not obligated to attend any meetings, and the company emphasizes spontaneity and process. Live Animals Onstage! creates its work through the process of theatrical devising, in which companies develop work collectively through structured exercises. Live Animals Onstage! borrows some exercises from The Mad Ones, a devised theatre company from New York City which develops full-length plays from structured improv. Selmi and Murphy are also inspired by the mantra “Less Talk, More Rock,” which encourages artists to put work up on its feet even if it is not polished.  “If someone throws out an idea, let’s make it happen and not interrogate its perfection,” says Selmi.

One such idea was The Bachelor LIVE!, brought to the table by company members Maye McPhail ’22 and Olivia Graceffa ’22. “[Graceffa and McPhail] were thinking it would be really, really fascinating to see what happens when you take down the fourth wall of a TV screen and make people watch live reality television,” explained Selmi.  “The idea is that the screen makes us comfortable and complicit in the weird exhibitionist voyeuristic tendencies of watching people market themselves.” In producing The Bachelor LIVE!, Live Animals Onstage! was careful in striking a balance between entertaining theatre and the more intellectual motive of the project. 

“We’re a theatre company, so we want to do things that are entertaining and that people want to watch. We want people to leave with a sense of ‘that was fun, but I felt weird.’” said Selmi. “We definitely interrogated whether we wanted this to be a heteronormative space, or whether to start with a Bachelor or Bachelorette, but we thought by putting on display that weird sexist thing where women all parade themselves for one man, and making people watch this while there is still that entertainment value will hopefully show people that it is uncomfortable to watch women try to win over a man in a way that conforms to gender norms.” 

Finding the perfect Bachelor for this project was a tough search, but ultimately a rewarding one. “It was a rigorous selection process,” confided Selmi. “We were looking for an attractive, charismatic, fun-loving person. We didn’t want an actor but we wanted a person who was comfortable onstage (a hint to the Bachelor’s identity). We wanted a person who was looking for love actively but wouldn’t take this too seriously.” Selmi paused, then added. “I think the Bachelor is perfect, and any woman at Williams would be lucky to date him, and hopefully one will after this!” 

The Bachelor who will appear tomorrow night had never seen an episode of The Bachelor before he was tapped for this project, according to Selmi, who watched an episode with him as “research,” reporting that he found the show “weird.” Though his identity cannot be disclosed until tomorrow evening, when asked for comment over text, the Bachelor sent a picture of himself eating a sandwich with the caption, “Pictures speak louder than words.”

As for the women who will appear on the show, Live Animals Onstage! had no trouble finding eligible contestants to play along. “At first we were really worried that we’d be asking people to engage in this objectifying process, but most people we asked were surprisingly open. People were excited about intellectualizing something that’s normally just fun to watch,” Selmi said. 

Though several contestants expressed anxiety about how the night would proceed (How will Live Animals Onstage! compress a whole season of falling in love into two hours?!), some, including contestant Alexa Walkovitz ’21, are excited for the opportunity. “I like to cause chaos,” admitted Walkovitz. “I want to be dipped in chaotic waters at every hour of the day. I thrive on it.”

Depending on how tomorrow night pans out, fans can expect more from Live Animals Onstage! very soon. “In our wildest dreams, we’ll follow up The Bachelor with The Bachelorette. If there’s a demand at Williams College, we will do The Bachelorette.” said Selmi.  “Or maybe Bachelor in Paradise on Paresky Lawn.”