Junior and senior theatre majors at the College developed and workshopped original in-progress works as part of the In the Room workshop series last weekend, performed in the Directing Studio of the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance.
Divided into two programs (Program A and Program B) with two performances of each program, the sold-out workshop series concluded by asking for audience feedback, as the weekend was a critical opportunity for these personal projects of students to develop.
All of the works were student-led and created, such as a selection of an original play by Maye McPhail ’22.5. “This was a really neat opportunity for student-led work to gain feedback,” McPhail said. “It really valued work in progress. I learned a lot.”
The projects were chosen through a proposal process, and student directors chose their actors through auditions. The projects were entirely student-produced, each with a student stage manager to guide the groups through the rehearsal process and performances.
The project was a rare opportunity for the students to showcase their work in a public manner. “Given the competitive nature of the theatre industry, many of the senior majors, including myself, are dealing with the very real reality of potentially not being able to make theatre until we establish ourselves as professionals,” student producer Nicolle Mac Williams ’22 said. “This workshop being people-driven and focused on the time together was honestly exactly what I needed.”
Each project only had 15 total hours of rehearsal time, a much shorter time frame than typical theatre productions. “I was super appreciative of the 15-hour limit,” McPhail said. “A lot of the time, us theatre people tend to take on too many projects at once or devote too much time to getting something perfect when there is actually something creative and freeing about saying, ‘This is a work in progress.’”
Program A’s four different projects were performed on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon. The first production was Fifty Feral Hogs, a play written by McPhail and directed by Petra Hinds ’24. McPhail introduced the play as a work in progress about Southern identity, queerness, and “the stories we tell ourselves.”
The play follows Callie, a young queer woman from Texas, as she navigates her evolving identity. Callie brings her partner Leah home to visit the farm where her beloved grandfather still resides. The play tangles questions of identity and honesty as Callie and Leah struggle to reconcile the differences between Callie’s Southern lifestyle and their shared academic life in the Northeast.
The next developing production, Area D, written and composed by Lour Yasin ’23, utilized a fantastical world to traverse themes of segregation, racism, and apartheid in a satirical manner. Area D centers around Laila, a young girl living in Jerusalem, as she works in her family’s souvenir shop with her brother, Michel. The musical opens with two “precious white tourists,” Ivanka and Donald, traveling to Area D on vacation, who end up visiting the souvenir shop. Quippy narration follows the couple as they fail to recognize their ignorance and prejudices.
The third production was a significant change of pace from the longform scenes of the prior projects. Mackenzie Grace ’22 showcased her project, Elements of Violence: An Exploration, which featured a single fight structure and choreography used across three different stories to assess how different character relationships changed the emotional impact of the fight. The first scene portrayed a fight between siblings, the second a duel between a superhero and a villain, and the third a scene of domestic violence between a couple.
Grace introduced the show by asking the audience to think about how they felt watching the violence in each setting and why. The audience responded distinctly to each translation of the choreography, and the reactions ranged from laughter to uncomfortable silence.
The final project displayed in Program A was a newly devised work based on the poetry of Sappho, an ancient Greek poet known for her lyric style, directed by Eddie Wolfson ’23. Wolfson, along with an ensemble of collaborators, explored queer identity, love, and desire through both embracing and rejecting elements of of Sappho’s poetry.
The group took turns vocalizing angst alongside love, monologing explorations of their queerness with Sappho’s poetry surfacing throughout. The production walked across the temporal bounds of poetry and balanced the modern and the archaic, the dramatic and the humorous, the collective and the individual.
“The parameters of the workshop allowed me to create a piece of queer theatre using ancient text that I don’t think I would’ve created otherwise,” Wolfson said.
Program B began with The Rosencrantz Finishing School, a solo performance written by Tristan Whalen ’23 and performed by Stephen Willis ’22. Whalen introduced his play by saying, “[It’s] as much about language as it is about action.” The actor demonstrated this theme through extensive poetic and rhythmic monologues that spanned the entirety of the performance.
The play tells the story of Letham Dorigen, a young theatre professor struggling to find his way in the echelons of theatre after the death of his esteemed father. The humorous dramatic monologue left the audience laughing yet rapt as they eagerly listened to the tragedy unfold.
The next production, Sparrows vs. Magpies written by Nina Kolman ’23 and directed by Dylan Nadelman ’23, followed a group of teen girls fighting over high school drama. The play epitomized the stereotypical ‘Gossip Girl Blair Waldorf moment’ of high school female friendships that evolve as sexuality comes into play.
The final project was a showcase of self-selected musical theatre performances titled the Musical Theatre Song Workshop, directed by Chris Van Liew ’23. The project featured four songs performed in sequence and accompanied by pianist Jake Eisner ’21.5.
Wolfson performed “The Games I Play” from Falsettos, a lively self-reflection, and was followed by Olivia Graceffa ’22, who performed “The Girl in 14G,” a striking combination of pop-musical style and operatic elements that tells the story of a young woman finding her voice in a new city. Van Liew performed the dramatic “Jasper’s Confession,” and Hinds finished the program with her rendition of the sorrowful “Losing My Mind” from Follies.
“There is something magical that happens when you put on a show, at whatever stage it is in, in front of an audience,” Mac Williams said, expressing her gratitude for the opportunity the workshop presented.