Q&A: Paige Quinlivan on Bender, friendship, and LGBTQ+ representation
Long after the one-act showcase at The Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival ended for Region V, festival-goers couldn’t stop talking about John Hughes Wrote My Diary, a romantic comedy about two best friends: Marty and Tommy. Marty has ain intense, Hollywood-esque crush on the most popular guy in school: Chet. Tommy has a crush on Claire, also popular. The two decide to befriend each other’s crushes and then pull a switch at an upcoming school dance, but in the process, Marty falls for Claire and Tommy falls for Chet.
I sat down with playwright Paige Quinlivan, who took home first place honors for the show, to discuss how her rom-com came to be and where she wants the genre to go next.
What inspired you to write John Hughes Wrote My Diary?
I started writing it as part of our bi-annual “play in a day” that our student theatre organization does in 2017. I wrote the original 15-page script in about three hours at like, midnight. Obviously, it’s changed since then. It was actually inspired by a music video (to the song “What’s It Gonna Be?”) by the artist Shura, who is a lesbian. And it’s basically the plot where [the two main characters] both have a crush on the most popular kid in school, and then they flip. I saw that, and I was like, “That would make a great play.”
Marty is such a dynamic character. She starts out crushing on the unattainable popular boy, and winds up falling for a girl. What did you want to accomplish with her?
Marty is very much autobiographical. I didn’t want to directly insert myself in the story, but I took the more self-deprecating, angsty, “I’m too cool to be friends with anyone” part of myself, and I just wanted to give her a shoutout. I honestly was thinking of my 13- and 14-year-old self when I was writing Marty.
I had these obsessions with men that seemed sort of separate like celebrities or fictional characters because, I think, when you’re still figuring out you’re a lesbian, and for me particularly, I have always struggled with compulsory heterosexuality. I was obsessed with The Breakfast Club, and I was particularly in love with Judd Nelson’s character, Bender. Which, looking back, is a little, um… *cringes* I was obsessed to the point where I made myself sick, it was so bad. So, I’d pick men, and Judd Nelson was a big one. So, Marty’s high concept fantasies about Chet, and placing them in these specific situations, was meant to suggest that she doesn’t want the real thing.
I was very touched that, in a show about romance, you really focused on the friendship between Tommy and Marty. Why was that important to you?
When I was expanding the play, Bailey– who played Marty and has been my best friend since I was in the first grade– and I were sort of re-negotiating our friendship. She was in a new relationship, I had just gotten out of a very tough relationship. So as I was writing the play, Tommy and Marty’s relationship was sort of my love letter to Bailey, as an apology and also to commemorate how far we’ve come and grown together.
Also, I love the idea that gay people flock to each other without even realizing it. Bailey and I became friends before we knew we were gay, and we’re both very gay.
The audience for the one-act readings at KCACTF reacted very strongly to your show. What do you think it was that they latched onto so strongly?
Honestly, I’m still a little baffled [by the audience reaction]. I was so in shock the entire time because I knew people would think it was cute, but I didn’t know that [whoops and hollers] would be the reaction. I’ve been trying to wrap my brain around it, and I think part of it was the fact that it was a bait-and-switch. You went in thinking “oh, this is going to be straight!” And then there are these moments when you think, “Hold on, this is going to be gay?!”
I really wanted to be vulnerable with this play, particularly with the character of Marty, and put my most embarrassing experiences in there. I think that embarrassment, shame and also the joy you find in finding someone who’s like you, it’s so personal, and I think that because it was personal, it touched that in other people. It’s still crazy to me that such a specific experience can be so universal.
We’re seeing more, if not much, LGBTQ+ representation in entertainment with movies like Love, Simon. What do you want to see for LGBTQ+ representation in the romantic comedy genre?
For me, particularly as a writer, I want to tell stories that are inherently about being gay, but also more than that. I think that’s really important. And I love Love, Simon, but it feels like a romantic comedy second, and a story about identity first. I do think that has its place, but I’d also like to see LGBTQ+ cinema and plays expand into heightened genre fictions.
For example, I’d love to see a film noir that’s just, like, about lesbians. And I don’t think it has to ignore the fact that these characters are queer, because I’m not a fan of the mindset of “oh, it’s just a story about people!” No, it’s a story about queer people. But I also think it’s good to place [queer characters] in situations where they’re not just queer, they’re queer and X, Y, Z. Multifaceted.
Theatre doesn’t just need more love stories, it needs fresh ones
I watch romantic comedies because I know what’s going to happen. Harry and Sally will admit their love on New Year’s Eve. Cher will realize that Josh has been the one for her all along. Jane will finally get to wear her 28th dress. Sam Baker’s birthday wish will come true.
I have watched over half a dozen shows in the span of a single week, and no single show has really latched itself onto my mind… except for one. It was a staged reading of an hour-long one-act. The show began with one girl: a teenage girl lost in 80s-inspired fantasies and struggling with the inherent angst that is high school.
John Hughes Wrote My Diary, a genre-subverting love letter of a play to 1980s romance, did something I never thought would happen.
It surprised me.
And I loved it.
John Hughes Wrote My Diary tells the story of Marty, a teenage girl who is lost in her own fantasies inspired by the movies of late director John Hughes. She pines after Chet, a handsome hunk of a jock, and her only friend is Ducky-esque Tommy, who pines after a popular girl in Marty’s class named Claire. Tired of being lonely (and each other’s only confidants), the two friends hatch a scheme. Tommy will befriend Chet, and Marty will befriend Claire. Then, at an upcoming school dance, they will switch, and relish their happily ever afters. Things get a little complicated– and wonderful– when Marty develops feelings for Claire and Tommy falls for Chet.
The atmosphere in the Belbas Theatre during John Hughes Wrote My Diary was electric. I don’t remember the last time I was in an audience as elated as the crowd was during this show. They latched onto Marty and Tommy immediately. Suddenly, the love stories of these two teenagers was the only thing in the world that mattered. What was it about this play, I wondered, that elicited such an intense reaction from the crowd? From me?
Romantic comedies are just starting to catch up to the diversity of the real world.Theatre has been even slower on the uptake. Lo and behold, there is a market for love stories starring LGBTQ+ people and people of color! Who would have guessed?
It’s easy to forget how important representation in entertainment is when you’ve always seen yourself get a happy ending. I, and many other girls like me, never saw myself get the guy or girl. My rom-com obsession led to a lot of insecurity as I grew up. I couldn’t see myself as a romantic heroine or imagine myself as the kind of girl anyone could fall in love with. The girls who got the happy endings where white. Skinny. Straight.
Marty is a dreamer, a romantic. She’s awkward and angsty and unaware and so, so relatable. And goodness, she is just magnificently gay. So, so gay.
I could feel everyone practically jumping for joy when they realized Marty and Tommy would be gay. That moment, where every queer person in the room could finally relate to the leads of a romance, was pure magic.
Was I surprised that Marty and Tommy would wind up gay? To be honest, no. I met the playwright Paige Quinlivan before I saw the one-acts and she described her show to me as “two gay love stories.”
What got to me was how much it would hit me to experience an audience feel seen by a genre that, for so long, has only been for a select few.
Here’s my theory: everyone has a romantic in them. No matter how pessimistic we are, we crave those happy endings. Love, after all, is one of the most intense forms of human connection. When we see ourselves in love stories, we can picture that kind of happiness in our own lives.
John Hughes Wrote My Diary is a cookie-cutter romantic comedy. It isn’t just an identity piece; it allows its characters to be multifaceted. It embraces the genre of romance while subverting it at the same time.
Give me more of that. Show me romance. Show me plays and musicals that don’t force their gay characters into boxes. Show me playwrights willing to tell stories of people of color (you’ll find many of them at KCACTF).
Romantic plays and musicals aren’t boring or tired; they just need fresh heroes.
They are out there. We just need to look for them.
Sioux Falls. January 24, 2019. Jessica Johnson is a graduate student at the University of Nebraska at Omaha studying to be a college professor in performance. She is also a hardworking mother of two. This is her experience
The caterpillar and the cocoon that institutionalized it.
“Do you know what to do if you ever get stopped by the police?”
I was five years old when my father sat me down to have “the talk.” It was the day following the incident which resulted in my uncle being dragged from the sidewalk in front of our house in handcuffs after the police knocked him unconscious. I stood, petrified, behind my mother’s leg. I remember not understanding why the police were something black children are taught to fear rather than to trust--but in that moment, I know.
In retrospect, I didn’t understand how being black could label me as “guilty” without trial. While my uncle had been rightfully resisting against the officer’s use of excessive force, members in our community still observed this situation, disregarding my uncle as the boy they’d known for decades, and said,
“Well if he had just followed orders, he might still be conscious.”
This scenario and other like it spark a conversation that all black parents have with their children--they try to prepare us for growing up black in America, but in the end they cannot save us from the prejudice that permeates every facet of our lives. The desired result of these constant reminders is the implant of voice in the back of our minds always urging us to be afraid, to be cautious, and to never step a centimeter out of line.
Lest we forget what happens when we do.
Passion Play, an original work by University of Missouri (MU) student Zahria Moore, capitalizes on the struggle that dominates our community--black women grow in and around the fear settled in our stomach every time our sons, fathers, brothers, and husbands venture into the world because we are born with a target that is stuck to our skin.
Following the story of Mamie, Martha, and Mary, three mothers all with teenage sons named Jonothan who died by under barrel of a gun, grapple with each other over whose son is buried in a recently upturned grave.
While enthralled by this concept, It was jarring to find myself so completely in awe of this innovative word smith and her ability to capture the raw and complex emotions one feels when losing a child, specifically to a tragedy as volatile as gun violence. Moore’s work is well written and conscientious of the times for which it was created. She is a beacon for self-aware artists in contemporary black theatre.
Contradictory, this verbally luscious work is overshadowed by the actors’ inability to slow the pace and allow for silence where silence is due. I found myself leaning forward at several instances, immersed in the give and take of what was being said on stage--only to be yanked out of it when the dialogue became lost.
Passion Play’s lack of passion from the mothers who had just lost their sons three days ago, and the awkward tumble of words tripping over themselves as an actress succumbs to her nerves rather than the situation unfolding on stage, twisted this beautiful story into the Mildly-interested Play.
However, the text itself still brings forth issues that the Black Community tries to hide from the light--suicide, gang violence, and police brutality, while prevalent in mainstream media, take a back burner to the loom of the mother’s competitiveness over whose son died the worst death. These sensitive issues serve as a vehicle for three women who live completely separate lifestyles in three obviously distinct socio-economic groups to relate, even on the shakiest of platforms, to what every black American faces regardless of class.
As it is intricately put in the show; “It don’t matter where we come from or how much money we got--we still niggas.”
What sticks out to me the most about this piece is how it manages to be about both Black masculinity and the box it is placed in, as well as the hurt that black women must work tirelessly to hide from an unforgiving world. This hurt shows weakness, and we cannot afford to be weak.
When looking at Passion Play from a modern cultural lense, one can begin to see the cocoon that surrounds the caterpillar a la Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly. Both pieces provide commentary on how black men are butterflies, but that society will turn them into criminals and rapists, and that this mindset permeates even into our own communities where women like, in this specific instance, Mamie and Martha will argue over whose son deserved to die.
We place a cocoon around the caterpillar who is instinctively jealous of the butterfly, unaware of his own biological capabilities. The butterfly represents the black man who has broken free of the cocoon and has become who he was meant to be. Every argument against his happiness and freedom then becomes obsolete. Who deserved to die?
The answer is neither.
Passion Project: The Creation of Step Forwardd
Love in the face of hate. The University of Central Missouri’s dance concert Step Forward does more than discuss topical social conflicts through the lens of this unifying message. Underneath emotional tableaus and patriotic messages lies a meticulous production process. According to key members of the creative team including directors Ashley Miller-Scully and Julie Rae Mollenkamp and student choreographers Ashton Bennett and Christina Foster, the show went through countless revisions before reaching an anthemic final product.
What inspired you to create a devised dance piece about social issues?
“At the time when we were deciding our next theme for the dance concert, it was right after the 2016 presidential election, and there was a lot of upheaval and division in the country. I then saw this meme on social media, and I thought ‘these are great issues that we can present through the arts in a way that might reach a lot of people and bring everyone together.”
- Ashley Miller-Scully
How much research did you complete when developing the show?
“Once I knew what pieces I would choreograph, I used research we received from partnering with UCM’s Social Influences class. At that point, I connected their dramaturgy with my own research to form the storyline of my choreography. Specifically regarding ‘Climate Change is Happening’, I spent a week compiling information about how humans hurt the earth directly and indirectly. Throughout the choreographic journey, I kept learning new facts to keep the dance relevant.” - Ashton Bennett, student choreographer
What was the most difficult part of the devising process?
“One of the hardest parts was that there were so many different directions we could have gone with the show. You never know when to stop. There were so many possibilities and ideas flowing from the group at once. This means it was difficult for us to decide on the most important societal lessons for each dance in order for the whole concert to be cohesive. The process was a true lesson in how to think together as an ensemble.” - Christina Foster
The theme of Festival 51 encourages Theatre artists to Inspire the Global Community. How does “Step Forward” support this message?
“The combination of dance, singing, spoken word, and images connect our humanitarianism with our patriotism and promotes the notion of radical empathy. UCM is working to create artist citizens who believe the world is made better through artistic practice. Theatre is one of the greatest tools we can use to connect communities, open doors, and help people grow into their best selves.” - Dr. Julie Rae Mollenkamp
Why do you ‘Step Forward’?
I step forward because I am a woman in America who needs to stand up for those do not have the courage to stand for themselves. - Ashton Bennett
I step forward in hopes to make the world a better place and for the next generation because they have voices that deserve to be heard. - Ashley Miller-Scully
A Powerful yet Passionless Passion Play
Mourning for the dead can cast a burden on the soul, but after witnessing Zahria Moore’s Passion Play presented by the University of Missouri, I send my condolences to its audience. While the dialogue rises to heavenly heights, the production digs its own grave with quiet and dimensionless performances suggestive of a middle school one-act, not an invited production.
Lights up on three distraught mothers walking to a disturbed grave. Each claims their teenage African-American son rests below the surface as a result of police brutality or mental illness. Within 45 minutes, tensions flare until the team unites around the desire for justice to be served.
Passion Play explores the instinctive urge of mothers to stand for their personal motives rather than for each other. The Black Lives Matter movement sparked conversation about the treatment of African Americans. Trayvon Martin’s death unearthed the hashtag that started a revolution. Behind these prejudicial circumstances rise the matriarchs who keep their children’s memories alive by stimulating the protest fire.
Playwright Zahria Moore crafts a layered play surrounding themes of social injustice faced by the African-American community. Composed of quick-witted dialogue and gripping monologues, Moore’s text balances colloquial language with sophisticated grace reminiscent of a Langston Hughes poem. Specifically, Mamie’s monologue contains emotional grit as she describes her son’s bullet wounds.
Even if its ending leaves questions about Jonathan’s whereabouts, the story is multilayered with rich exposition. A solid script, its concrete text cracks at the helm of Director Cat Gleason. The allegro pace and staging feel forced and contradictory to the rich text. This explains why her direction undercooks and under-seasons this five-star steak of a play.
As Mamie, Dajah Garrett breathes life into the narrative. Her fiery confidence is as authentic as a Real Housewife. Garrett’s protective instinct sours the situation and adds salt to Gleason’s flavorless cooking.
Meanwhile, De’Janna Scales-Hand and Rachael Robinson produce false emotion as Martha and Mary. Their robotic dialogue barely extends past the lip of the stage. In particular, Scales-Hand delivers mumbled accusations with the inflection of a virtual assistant.
The design elements add a quasi-real feeling to the world, but Jonathan’s grave looks lonely as the only one onstage. Lighting designer Babs Randazzo enhances this atmosphere with a gentle midnight blue afterglow over Cat Gleason’s ordinary cemetery set.
The minimalistic design contains an iron fence curving from a dirty red brick wall with an elevated grave at its center. A rounded rectangular dirt latrine surrounded by a turf hill serves as the safety net for the emotional matriarchs.
Moore offers a eulogy of equity and mistreatment with a story that could be taken from a news segment. The play still unpacks a difficult argument regardless of poor direction and careless performances that abandon narrative roots. Nevertheless, she paints the isolated image of a burial site, highlighting how easy it is to walk over a life meant to be honored and remembered.
Passion Play’s potential is left buried under six feet of dirt.
Every Spring Christians remember and celebrate the death of a man too young to die. The Passion of Christ is known as possibly the greatest act ever performed by a mortal man. Jesus Christ sacrifices himself to save the sins of the rest of the world. This willingly sacrifice is followed by grieving mothers, an empty tomb, and a confusion unlike any other. This same type of confusion is the crux of the University of Missouri’s Passion Play, written by student playwright Zahria Moore.
Passion Play’s words soar above the stars as Moore masterfully explores the
deaths of three black youths all sharing the same murderer: a gun. The plays shortcomings arise from fleeting dialogue and muffled diction. A lack of realism exists like a quite fog high above the set, only being kept at bay by Moore’s elevated writing.
A single grave marked “Jonothan” lies center stage. No last name, just a single bible verse lay over the words “Rest In Power.” No one knows who exactly is buried there. Not even the Gravedigger (Alan Toney) as he begins to dig up the grave. A somber mother named Mamie (Dajah Garret) enters the stage caring a bouquet of flowers and quickly becomes distraught as she sees the dirt being removed from “her” son’s grave. The Gravedigger stops digging and leaves to the mother’s short relief. Mamie soon becomes enraged as not only one, but two mothers come by the gravesite claiming their sons are buried in the exact same spot. Martha (De’Janna Scales-Hand) and Mary (Rachel Robinson) confront Mamie defending their claim to the gravesite.
Whose grave is it? Which son is buried there? These questions are what make up the baseline conflict of Passion Play. However, as important as knowing where your own child is buried -the location of the sons’ bodies become backdrop to determining which death deserves the most respect.
Mamie’s son becomes a symbolic character sparking hashtags and cries for justice after he is gunned down by a cop. Passion Play allows the audience to take a step into the lives of matriarchs left with one less child due to gun violence. Each mother’s experience brings to life the aftermath of gun violence, inside and outside the Black Lives Matter movement.
Director Dr. Cat Gleason somehow found a way to turn a diamond of a play back into a piece of coal. The lack of direction created sparse moments of reality as the actors never found the heart of their characters. Uninteresting movements and forced action took you even further out of the play and closer to a coffin of boredom.
Alan Toney’s rich voice and quirky demeanor works as the perfect bookends to a play whose potential was left buried six feet deep. Toney sings a sweet Christian hyme as he opens and closes the show and leaves the audience smiling and wishing that all of Passion Play had as much heart as his small role did.
Dajah Garrett’s portrayal of Mamie is fierce and the most authentic piece of acting that keeps Passion Play alive. Mamie’s monologue blaming herself for the death of her son pulls at your heartstrings and makes you want to reach out and hug the distraught mother.
De’Janna Scales-Hand and Rachel Robinson’s imitation of mothers was there but that’s all it was imitating. The range of emotion was non-existent and muddled dialogue revealed the students and not the grieving mothers.
Passion Play’s simplistic set design of a single grave, bench, and brick fence allowed the actors free range to command the stage, which unfortunately never happened. Dr. Gleason was also the scenic designer and used real dirt in the middle of the turf grave. This allowed the actors to actually dig up the grave and gave the simple set just enough reality to it.
Lighting Designer Babs Randazzo casted a dusk-like-blue over the stage, setting the audience in a relaxed yet apprehensive mood. Sound Designer Brad M. Carlson adds distance chirping of birds to solidify the outdoor space of the graveyard.
Moore delivers a complex message in a simple way. No one’s story is the same, but we can all come together on the experiences that make us equal. Passion Play’s potential was buried underneath mediocre acting but will rise again as her words are unearthed in another time to come.
Thank you Women of KCACTF Region 5.
I am so thankful to be a man. Wait, that’s not right. I am happy the University of Missouri has chosen to produce the tragic-comedy Waiting For Godot this spring. No, that’s not quite it. I am grateful that directors for Waiting For Godot have strictly casted men for generations and I have more opportunity to perform this semester than my female counterparts! Okay, that’s what I meant to say.
Honestly I am excited to be a part of the cast for this show in the spring.
But, honestly I can’t ignore the fact that the department chose to do a male-only show when women, students and faculty, out number the men in the department 3:1. I am not saying we don’t have talented male actors that will do the job well. It is just when over 90 percent of the stage managers, production staff, and directors are all women. . . you start to question why produce a male only show? Each theatre season is different and each year the roles are never consistent. I get that, but why is there still this type of imbalance.
I am being honest here and I have to say I would have never even thought about the disparity in roles available due to gender if it wasn’t for KCACTF. Specifically due to the powerhouse of women at KCACTF.
The whole reason why I am writing this article is because WOMEN ACTRESSES CARRIED EVERY SINGLE SHOW. Argue with me if you want, but in every invited production there wasn’t a male actor that was better than their female counterparts on stage. Want examples? Sure, I’ll give you them.
The University of Nebraska at Kearny’s Eurydice was swept away by the powerful female-lead chorus of stones.
Step Forward’s entire ensemble from the University of Central Missouri gave one of the most impactful performances I have ever seen. However, the songs chosen let their female members shine.
Iowa State University’s Iphigenia would have been dull and lackluster without the performances of Clytaemnestra and Iphigenia. The myth’s typical male tragic-hero was turned on its head as the female actresses stole the stage.
Written by a female student(shout out Zahria Moore), the University of Missouri’s Passion Play has three actresses tell us the story of grief, confusion, and gun violence in the black community. Any errors in production were small in comparison to the elevated writing of the female playwright.
From the first moment of Morningside College’s Trifles, the play’s women had you on the edge of your seat. Mrs. Wright’s eerie demeanor created a platform for the actress of Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters to find a real base of emotion and reality throughout the rest of the show.
Finally the all female cast of Alice In Wonderland from the University of Northwestern St. Paul ended the week on a high note with a whimsical rendition of the classic tale. The actress playing Alice brought out every audience members inner child through her innocent and sensible disposition.
All I am trying to say here is that this week was all about women. This is my first KCACTF festival and I did not know what I was getting myself into. Okay. I’m going to South Dakota for a week for one thing. Like what type of theatre was I expecting to see in South Dakota? I had no idea what to expect, but here I am now writing about how amazing it was to see some genuine performances and pieces of art.
The festival’s theme of inspiring a global community could even be more specific into inspiring a global community of women. All these stellar women performances made me think about the opportunities for women in theatre on my campus and across campuses everywhere.
How do we be advocates for each other at all times? I think we can take a page from Step Forward’s book and just be kind to one another. Look out for each other when no one else is. From my campus to the 1500 other KCACTF participants I can say without a doubt, that the theatre community is the most welcoming group of people I have ever been apart of. We are also extremely extroverted and quite weird at times but hey that’s what makes us, us. As a male I want to be there for any of my female friends or any women in general when they need me. I know that by being an advocate and ally to all we can each make this world a better place.
So I would like to say thank you to all the women at KCATCF for melting my heart and putting on some of the best performances I have ever seen in South Dakota. . . and anywhere else.
This year region 5 introduced a student advisory board, which is a group of students that are looking for ways Festival can be improved over the coming year. Damien Page who is a student on the advisory board has agreed to answer a few questions about his experience.
What does being on the student advisory board mean to you?
I think that being on the student advisory board is a great experience because it’s new and it can help people’s experience in the coming years. This year especially we have a diverse group which can help create underdeveloped voice for minorities in theatre. I also like how the leadership of the festival decided to create this group because it gives them an inside view of what works and what doesn’t, and I feel like I’m making every future festival goer’s experience more worthwhile.
What are some things you’ve done to make sure you’re doing your job on the advisory board?
Since the beginning of festival I always ask people how festivals going for them and what they like and what they dislike. I feel like asking people I don’t know is more helpful than asking the people I came here with.I’ve been taking a notepad to workshops with me and I write down whether or not people are getting the experience they deserve out of the workshop. For example I feel that a LGBT discussion group or forum would help so more people can better understand themselves or can support members of the LGBT community.
What all happened at the student councils?
It started with the festival leadership giving a brief over why they want actual student councils created. Then we all brought up issues we had experienced at festival. For example a lack of workshops, scheduling conflicts, and walking distances. We were talking about forming multiple student councils for students of different communities, for example students with disabilities, LGBT students, etc.
After your experience at the student council, what are some changes you plan on making to give a better response at the closed session on Saturday
I plan on contributing more, because I listened so I can find out more about what they’re looking for and I plan on asking people from my school for a detailed response as to what needs to be changed and why it needs to change. I know the people from my school won’t be nervous to be honest with me. I now understand the importance of communicating things that don’t work and that do work.
How has your experience been at festival? Any issues or problems you’ve experienced?
I find the festival to be really enjoyable, it’s been better than I could have ever imagined. Unfortunately I’ve found issues in the scheduling because i’ve missed workshops that were scheduled right after each other and I didn’t have enough time to make it. The designs workshops have been fun but way too limited and they fill up too quickly.The walking distances are fine until you have somewhere you need to be, and then it becomes a problem, because things fill up too quickly.
Do boundaries belong in art
All of my life, I have been an advocate for pushing the boundaries. I will keep going until someone tells me to stop. Over this last week at KCACTF there have been a few shows that have maybe crossed the line a little. I find myself torn about this because part of me says “that’s gross and now I’m uncomfortable” but another part of me asks the question should art have boundaries?
Are people more bothered by subject matter or how realistic the scene is? I feel like it can be both. There are definitely some areas artists should not explore, such as racial slurs and stereotypes. Everything else is free game unless the art supports hate and/or exclusion. Additionally artists should not be idolized if they have sexual assault/ rape accusations against them or if they promote hate culture.
An example of a show that made people say “he went too far” was at opening ceremony. #//<Embedded>//# created and performed by Patrik Motwani has a few graphic scenes. The moment I’m mainly referring to is when a character gets a little intimate with himself and has an orgasm. Now I wasn’t necessarily bothered by this, but all week I’ve spoken to several people who were. I understand where the negative feeling comes from, but also it’s art why should other people dictate whether it stays within acceptable boundaries. There was several more moments during the performance that people were uncomfortable with, and a lot of people have said they didn’t like it.
There shouldn’t be boundaries in art. Art is a way people express themselves, and no one should be able to limit how someone else expresses themself. Trigger warnings definitely need to exist, and for the most part they do, just not at Festival for some reason.
During the invited scenes a scene was chosen that features a young girl, Michaella Deladia, who goes through the process that occurs after taking a Plan B pill in a bathroom. Once again certain audience members were outraged by the sensitive material. I once again found myself a little uncomfortable, but that wasn’t because of the subject matter, it was because it felt so real. With the combination of great acting and a lot of fake blood, I honestly felt like I was watching a real event happen, but just because I felt uncomfortable does not meant the scene crossed any line. Just because the audience doesn’t have a pleasant feeling throughout the whole show doesn’t mean it’s a bad show or that the show is too intense. I don’t want to go to a show that has a happy story, no set backs, and doesn’t make me feel anything but joy; no one wants to see a show like that. I want theatre and art in general that makes me question things, makes me have several different emotions, and makes me feel more than just happy or just sad.
A personal experience of mine was during my first full length production. I had a scene during which I was thrown to the ground, and I was told that my fall looked to realistic and my director didn’t want audience members to be concerned about me. As an actor I have been told over and over again to be realistic as possible, but all of the sudden I’m being told to not be real? Theatre artists are told not to be realistic with things like falling, fighting, sex, ect. It doesn’t make sense to suddenly tell actors and/ or artists to pull back
In an ITJA session, we talked about Sarah Kane’s Blasted. Blasted is a very difficult show that features a lot of gruesome scenes and it never really has a chill moment. Blasted belongs to a movement called In-Yer-Face Theatre, this movement was all about not filtering writing, and Sarah Kane had no filter. While talking about Blasted the group read a review of the show. The review said that the show was going to make the audience extremely uncomfortable, but it wasn’t a bad production. While Kane hits a few nerves, she expresses herself this way and she should not be restricted from doing so.
Step Forward is a great example of art that may be opinionated and may make some upset, but the show is an honest expression of how the cast feels about issues in society. While Step Forward didn’t trigger anyone, the show definitely features topics that could. Step Forward makes its audience think which is what art should aim to do.
Bottom line art is created for the artist, and The only person that should have say over what is acceptable and what isn’t is the artist themself.
REVIEWS--Iphigenia and Step Forward
‘Iphigenia’ turns female anguish into a weapon
Women loom large in Euripides’ Iphigenia, adapted by Amanda Petefish Schrag and Ben Schrag for Iowa State University and staged in Sioux Falls’ Orpheum Theater. Female emotion– rage, despair, hope– quite literally beats through every scene with handheld staffs. High-octane performances and technical creativity make a centuries-old tale feel timeless.
Iphigenia, first performed in 405 B.C., is Greek tragedy in its purest form: If famous general Agamemnon (Ryeland Doolittle) wants to sail for Troy to fight in the Trojan Wars with his army, he must sacrifice his beloved daughter Iphigenia to Artemis. He reluctantly agrees, and lures his wife Clytaemnestra (Emily Heckle) and Iphigenia (Lena Menefee-Cook) to Port Aulis, where his ships lay in wait, under the false pretense of a marriage to war hero Achilles (Ben Mayer). When the women discover the ruse, however, everything falls apart.
This adaptation of Euripides’ tale follows the original text closely, but the chorus plays a more active role in the story. Ben Schrag’s music ties them more deeply into the story itself than modern audiences might expect. It’s not quite a musical, however. The songs provide context and exposition because most Greek plays have at least five myths’ worth of backstory to consider going in. Schrag’s music is not very complex, but the alternative, chant-like melodies provide an effective soundtrack to the show. Though I was not a fan of the onstage, three-piece band, I did take a liking to the clever use of the cello as both an instrument and a sound effect tool.
Director Amanda Petefish Schrag has a vision and follows it. She hones in on the choral nature of Greek theatre and trusts her chorus to carry the story. The ensemble of 12 are indiscernible at the top of the show, using staffs to drum the beat of a war song in unison. They take on characters by wielding large, geometric puppet masks large enough to cover their faces and torsos if they so desire. The masks, designed by Schrag herself, are all unique; Iphigenia’s has white linen that falls from the girlish face like a dress. They are not just sources of identity, but also of power. At times, Schrag gives too much power to the masks, drawing focus too much from the actors, who did not have a concrete method of using the masks to convey emotions. Sometimes, they would simply be wielding them. Other times, the masks were embodied. As much as I love the masks, I found myself wishing for both more clarity and less infatuation with the masks.
Kelly Marie Schaefer’s costumes, while clearly Greek-inspired, take inspiration from both Ottoman and Greek fashion. Her costumes are neutral-colored, but she uses a variety of layers, fabrics and textures to create unique looks for the cast; Agamemnon’s dark gray wool sweater resembles chain mail and is paired with slate leggings and a leather overskirt. The gender-neutral costumes allow the chorus to be on a level playing field, even while telling a story where gender parity is not even a twinkle in someone’s eye.
Natalie Hinning opts for a collection of large platforms and strips of white linen falling from the ceiling to the stage in her scenic design. The set does not blow me away, but it does allow the designers and cast both to use the stage in other ways without making it too busy.
Most impressive, however, is lighting designer Patrick J. Immel’s use of silhouette screens as yet another exposition tool alongside Schrag’s blocking. At the top of the show, seeing the growing shadow of Agamemnon leading his troops is, for lack of a better phrase, really cool. Immel uses color with care, and never washes out the set or actors.
Despite playing the show’s namesake, Lena Menefee-Cook has very little of substance to do as Iphigenia. The character is underwritten, but Menefee-Cook utilizes her time as best she can. She commands the stage with dignity and poise when she is embodying Iphigenia and carries heartbreaking levels of both innocence and poise, most notably at the show’s conclusion.
Euripides caught a lot of heat from his contemporaries for his sympathy to the disenfranchised. In his writing, even the tragedies, women take control of their fates. Look at Medea, Helen or even Trojan Women. The women in his works, for good or ill, have as agency. They are free thinkers. They are murderers. They are characters, fully formed and fascinating. We see a bit of that in Iphigenia, who commands her own destiny at the show’s conclusion, but it’s even more present in her mother.
Emily Heckle gives a standout performance as Clytaemnestra. She carries herself with the raw desperation a mother who is about to lose her child would have. Her strong contralto voice carries with an aura of authority, only faltering in moments of intense emotion. She delivers her lines with such ferocity that even audience members struggling with the dense prose of the play reacted to one particularly satisfying interaction between her and her husband. She contrasts greatly with Ryeland Doolittle, whose portrayal of Agamemnon seems purposefully restrained, as if he is always on the edge of breaking. Perhaps he is. Either way, their dynamic provides delicious drama that is all the more interesting because of Clytaemnestra’s defiant nature.
Schrag spends a lot of time focused on Clytaemnestra’s rage and despair, almost to the point of discomfort. Heckle spends a lot of time isolated on stage in the fetal position, shaking with wretched sobs. Moments like these are dangerous; women’s pain is often romanticized in entertainment (looking at you, Game of Thrones) for no other reason than producers’ inability to elicit emotion from audiences any other way. Iphigenia toes the line with Clytaemnestra, but succeeds by focusing the lens on her. Her pain is not used as a prop for Agamemnon or even Iphigenia. By the play’s end, her pain is the show’s heart.
This shift of focus is the crowning glory of Iowa State’s Iphigenia. It does not settle for telling the story of Agamemnon’s fall from grace. Instead, Clytaemnestra asserts herself as the true tragic hero of the story. This results in some thematic confusion, since the script wants to tell Agamemnon’s story, but it overall works out because modern audiences crave characters as complex as her. Schrag does not fight this, rather, she lets the emotions of Clytaemnestra's loss carry the show’s final scenes.
Her gamble, however untraditional it might be, pays off.
Caught in the Age of the Social Justice play, Step Forward provides a unique look into the American struggle from the eyes of the United States Constitution
When looking at contemporary American theatre, it’s impossible not to see the opportunity for discussion and self introspection that inevitably comes with it. We live in a time where societal issues are a part of day to day life, and modern theatre strives to open a dialogue for change. We live in the age of “Theatre for Social Justice,” and in several ways we are more connected on issues that affect us all than ever before.
The University of Central Missouri’s devised piece Step Forward is a show that invites the audience not only to look within themselves but also to understand that how Americans deal with social justice is different than it is anywhere else. Step Forward it is a saturated, harmonic, and uniquely American piece of theatre that I deeply enjoyed and won’t soon forget.
As is common with most devised pieces, the performers began with a set of movements rather than a developed text. While using the United States Constitution as a map on their journey, they explore the idea of what struggle looks like in modern day America and wrote their own Preamble in response to the ideas presented in the original.
This “New Preamble,” as it were, challenges the audience to take a vow of loving thy neighbor as thyself without condition or limitation. It begs the audience to consider that while we may not always agree with or even understand the way in which people live their lives, this does not render them undeserving happiness and safety. This new Preamble challenges the audience to take away what is useful, to leave the rest, and consider and how each of us can work toward a kinder, more accepting “tomorrow,” for everyone.
Episodic in nature, each chapter capitalizes on and ranges from issues such as Black Lives Matter and police brutality, Love is Love, to women’s rights, and even climate change.
The set, bare so that the performers have space to move, is complete with four massive projection screens used for the purpose of flashing historical images in tandem with each corresponding piece. These include snapshots of various marches for change, civil rights leaders, and images of brutalized black men. The audience is seated close together in a protective thrust, a set up which is essential for an impactful performance such as this one--all too often theatre is packaged and topped with a shiny red bow. In traditional performance, the audience comes expecting to comfortably watch a show and leave feeling content and complacent. Step Forward forces the audience to challenge that logic.
The lobby, intent in keeping with a theme of destroying complacency, is littered with paintings depicting guns with flowers sticking out of the ends and once the show begins a massive neon American flag serves as the backdrop--From the moment I entered the theatre, I knew their message was going to be something special.
With very few spoken lines, the performers use dance and other forms of forced movement to tell the story, and overall it was successful and ravishing visually.
Certain moments outshine others such as the Black Lives Matter portion where the audience is asked to step into someone else’s shoes. More on this later. In contrast to the complete success of this chapter, however, there are a few “episodes,” which have a much clunkier feel than others, specifically the movement regarding climate change.
While the choreography is stimulating in the sense that it strays farther away from improvised movement and further into ballet, what really disorients me is the dialogue of this particular scene. Performers accompanied their graceful, flowing movement with random shouts of phrases such as “the earth is dying! We must save her!”these random declarations are redundant as the audience is already interpreting those truths from the movement itself.
In a piece where language is obsolete and second only to movement, it’s bizarre that they felt the beautiful choreography had to be accompanied by on-the-nose language that seems to be an afterthought in comparison.
This, however, is not an issue in the Black Lives Matter/ police brutality portion where a performer asks the audience to raise their left and right hands and to leave them there for the duration of the piece in order to stand in solidarity with the “Hands up, don’t shoot,” movement. As a woman of color this moves me to a place of utter heartbreak. I sit, tears streaming down my face, with my hands above my head in a silent theatre; already we know the ending to this story. In this delicately crafted breath between the reality of the stage and the one in which we live, we were all
My cousin, Mac Davis,
And Sandra Bland.
In this moment we must decide how we will react the next time another black face flashes across our TV screens. This is how successful theatre gets its audience to introspectively view the world around them as a place that is home to more than just themselves. This is how successful theatre enacts change in us all. Step Forward is a strong production that trusts in its audience’s ability to take away the vibrant lesson at its core; above all else, be kind.
Hiding Behind the Mask: Iphigenia’s flaws outweigh its strong message
As the sun rises on a deserted wasteland, the sound of a thundering herd floods the stage. But don’t get ahead of yourself. This is by no means as optimistic as “The Lion King.” With every step, a company of soldiers’ stomps onto the Orpheum stage with faces as stoic as the hypersymmetric masks looming above them. Adapted from the Greek myth by Euripides, Iowa State University’s production of Iphigenia attempts to capture the desolation of war-torn land and broken familial ties. While live original music and evocative mood lighting thrust the narrative forward, the company shows little enthusiasm and opts to let the stone-faced masks do the talking.
Caught in the middle of a war, Agamemnon chooses to sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia, to appease the goddess Artemis to send troops to war to preserve his honor. After hearing Iphigenia’s fate, her mother, Clytemnestra, and betrothed, Achilles, vow to protect the young bride at whatever the cost. Add in a sibling rivalry, a motherly protest, and a spouse’s sacrificial promise, and you get a familial feud more complicated than the Kardashians.
Pride, revenge, and deceit are common character flaws laced within tragic Greek characters. As relationships unravel and power is abused, the stories of their failures leave audiences more defeated than hopeful. Often, the downfall of the protagonist creates a chain reaction affecting their loved ones the most. Audiences only remember the central figure while supporting characters are lost within the personal woes of self-inflicted wounds, murder, and sexually charged motives.
Nevertheless, this version of Iphigenia aims to change this notion.
Though the original myth follows Agamemnon’s downfall, this energizing adaptation flips the saga on its head, recognizing Clytemnestra as the protagonist. Adapted by Amanda Petefish-Schrag with Bohemian war-cry music composed by Ben Schrag, the reinvented presentation contains a seamless structure interweaving archaic plot points with harmonious tunes.
Along with a liberating feminist twist, a live band including a cello, guitar, and female vocalist leads the company in minor folk melodies that accent a hostile domestic lifestyle. Together the chorus echoes the text, but alone, Barbara Fisher struggles to keep the energy alive with her breathless, alto voice. Band members also manipulate stringed instruments to create sound effects including an arrow screeching across a bow.
The company of Iphigenia functions as a unified army holding wooden staffs acting as weapons hammering the floor. The intermittent rhythmic patterns are a second language within the play and italicize significant plot shifts. Rather than actively listen, chorus members stare, expressionless as clay warriors escorting the Greek princess to her grave.
At the heart of this show is Emily Heckle who portrays Clytemnestra with valiant honesty. In fact, she offers the only wholly engaging performance within the production. Her yearning toward Agamemnon, played with dull aggression by Ryeland Doolittle, is both heart-wrenching and empowering. Rather than play Clytemnestra as a victim, Heckle embodies courage in the presence of fear, delivering frank heroism. Upon hearing of his selfish decision, she attacks Agamemnon with a message emblazoned with motherly conviction and wit.
Though not perfect, Lena Menefee-Cook and Ben Mayer enliven the play’s action as Iphigenia and Achilles with moments of passionate resilience. Menefee-Cook’s retaliation against Clytemnestra’s wishes is anything but childish. Poised with her back arched, she glides across the stage holding her mask as a valuable artifact. Alternatively, Mayer commands the stage as Achilles searches for answers.
Natalie Hining designs a simplistic set comprised of a long, rustic boating dock. At both sides of the runway, two multistep seaweed-green platforms serve as the “home bases” for the chorus. While the set satisfies the needs of the narrative, the paint job swipes across platforms with the same precision as cheap souvenir gemstones.
Charged with coloring a world by the sea, lighting designer Patrick Immel fills the sparse stage with orange sun-rays. Just as effective, baths of deep blue and blood red light flood the stage as Clytemnestra mourns and Iphigenia struts toward death. The only concerning quality about Immel’s design lies in the dark lavender light which cast a split shadow over the actors’ faces, leaving the mask as the focal point. In truth, the overall production followed suit by bringing the geometric masks to the forefront rather than the actors behind them.
Behind a bland color pallet and questionable texture choices, Kelly Marie Schaefer’s costume design combines the warlike garb of Vikings with free-flowing Romanesque fabric. Deep shades of greys and greens differentiated from the story’s key players adorned in shades of white, but the color scheme could not save the chorus from being swathed in thick, coarse yarn. Meanwhile, brothers Agamemnon and Menelaos, wear leather skirts that display the tough dexterity of hot-rod motorcyclists.
Lastly, Amanda Petefish-Schrag’s puppet design is innovative, to say the least. What is thought to be carved out of aged wood is, after all, made from layers of cardboard angled to display specific facial features.
Although there is no “Disney-fied” ending for these characters, the courage they evoke inspires all, especially women, to stand up for what is right. Unified in its theme, the production drew questions about the social correctness within classical theatre literature. Though lackluster on numerous levels, a powerhouse female-lead, gorgeous masks, and inventive orchestrations take Iphigenia from tragic to mediocre.
Iphigenia turns potential into disappointment
Have you ever written a story that you thought was going to be this huge poetic piece that solves all of the world’s problems, but ended up falling short? Iowa State University’s production of Iphigenia is one of those stories.
Where this adaptation fails is in the execution. Iphigenia would definitely be more comprehensible to a viewer that knows the myth. Since I had no prior knowledge of the myth I found myself lost right from the beginning.
Iphigenia opens with a hunter killing a deer, which just happens to be a prized animal of the goddess of hunting, Artemis. To atone for this, Artemis orders Agamemnon to kill his oldest child, Iphigenia. Agamemnon creates a fake wedding where he plans to kill his daughter for Artemis’ favor in an upcoming war. Agamemnon’s plans are foiled by his wife and Iphigenia’s supposed fiance, Achilles. Agamemnon decides to not kill his daughter, but Iphigenia chooses to be sacrificed anyway.
The message the show presents is that our ties to family are stronger and more important than anything else. Iphigenia definitely hammers this point home; the show features several moments where characters change their goals and objectives because another family member is greatly affected by it. An example would be Menelaos pulling his support for the war after learning that Iphigenia would have to be sacrificed to help war efforts.
Clytemnestra, portrayed by Emily Heckle, holds a strong role as Iphigenia’s mother. Heckle has some very intense scenes, and she definitely brings the required skills to the table.
Juawan Thomas, who portrays Menelaos, and Vivian Cook, who portrays Calchas, disappear into the chorus after one scene as their non-chorus characters, which left me curious as to what happened to those characters.
The chorus members do a fantastic job of keeping the story moving. The chorus chimes in with the occasional word or phrase that can at times feel like a character’s internal monologue, and other times provides subtext. The chorus’ blocking helps the show a lot. The chorus always finds a way to evenly frame the main action of every scene. Even while moving and banging their staffs on the floor, the chorus never draws focus from the action.
Iphigenia keeps it traditional by having non-chorus characters hold stylized masks, but the effort to try something “new” isn’t entirely working for the show. Some actors rise to the challenge of manipulating the mask and show emotion with voice and body language since facial expressions are for the most part blocked, but other actors couldn’t pull off the switch causing their performances to fall a flat. The actors were constantly battling the masks for who shows the most movement, in one specific instance an actor turned to talk to another actor, but they left their mask facing the audience. The use of masks also made it difficult to distinguish between characters, honestly I couldn’t tell the difference between the attendant and the messenger.
The band helps keep the audience’s attention. The band also provides a jarring sound towards the end of the show as Clytemnestra slowly lowers a dagger. With this movement the cello player makes a hair-raising scratching noise on one of the strings.
Blocking flows very well in Iphigenia; each actor is like a gear in a big machine. The whole cast also does a great job with synchronizing their staff slams; they’re almost always one hundred percent on time.
Natalie Hining scenic design for Iphigenia is large and involved, but it also has a very open feel to it. White thin strips of fabric hang from the rigging above, and these strips of fabric serve as entrances and exits; two strips meet in the middle of the stage and also serve as an entrance. A lighting instrument behind a backdrop allows actors to create silhouettes when they are acting out flashback scenes. The set also features three wooden platforms. One is a long flat platform that is used as a main acting space, and the other two serve as risers for the chorus. The set serves the production well because it frames action without limiting movement.
Lighting is featured in this show. As soon as audience members walk in they can see the side lighting on either side of the stage. One really cool thing that Lighting Designer Patrick J. Immel did for this show is use light to make thematic connections, most pointedly the linking of character deaths through repeated use of color. Overall lighting for Iphigenia is experimental. While using more standard colors like Bastard Amber and Special Lavender, Iphigenia isn’t afraid to use yellow, red, and blue to change the mood of the show.
Iphigenia succeeds in all design aspects, but holes in the plot leave uninformed audience members out of the loop and questioning—how much prior knowledge can you assume an audience to have?
REVIEWS--Eurydice and Step Forward
‘Eurydice’ is pleasing to the eye, but still feels incomplete
The world of Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice as performed by the University of Nebraska at Kearney feels drawn forth from a neon ballet fantasy. Vibrant imagery, a strong chorus and a creatively adapted script push an otherwise underwhelming show forward.
Eurydice tells the tale of Orpheus and (you guessed it) Eurydice from the latter’s perspective. In the original myth, Eurydice dies soon after wedding Orpheus, a poet, and he descends into the underworld to retrieve her. The god of death, Hades, agrees to let her go, but only if Orpheus can lead her from the underworld without looking back to see if she is following. Ruhl’s script complicates the tale by adding Eurydice’s long-lost father in the underworld and a chorus of walking, talking stones.
Director Noelle Bohaty’s background in dance shines in the contemporary movements she weaves into every scene of the show. Dance is a second language in the world of the production, communicating desperation and longing alike. Ruhl’s world is all shifting memories, fleeting moments, and puzzled introspection. Bohaty’s choreography fits so well with the poetic prose of the script that the show feels like a musical without songs. And in a world where words are hard to come by and even harder to understand, movement feels like the most honest form of expression available. The only flaw with the ever-present dancing is that sometimes, it blocked important moments of plot and action.
The bedrock of any Greek show is the chorus, and the four moving, talking “stones” are as solid a foundation as a show could hope for. Hunter T. Scow, Trisha Marie Miller, Kalee Reams and Mary Dworak almost never leave the stage, providing exposition and context alike with intensity and vigor. The strength of the chorus, however, overshadows the leads in many ways.
Mary Joyce Storm (Eurydice) and Hayden Nelson’s (Orpheus) chemistry never truly takes off despite solid individual performances. Storm’s lyrical clarity can’t quite mesh with Nelson’s cartoonish naiveté. In the play’s opening scene, their characters flirt and tease, but even when they are standing close, they never quite touch, lacking familiarity. The scene should lay a foundation for world-shattering romance, but it falls short. Their energies don’t feel like two halves of a whole, resulting in an underwhelming romance.
The visual design of Eurydice, however, is anything but underwhelming. Ronald Altman’s sheer, pastel costumes flow beautifully with the contemporary choreography. Anthony Knudson’s set is simple yet stylized. The design elements blend very well. The stage, featuring a central rotating platform, is washed in bright shades of blue, pink and violet, courtesy of Del DeLorm’s psychedelic light design. DeLorm utilizes black light effectively; the underworld feels abstract and foreign, complementing the set and costumes both.
In all, Eurydice is pleasing to the eye, even if the direction and acting does not always live up to its fullest potential.
Eurydice, While Electric and Feverish in Design, Lacks Luster in Performance
The University of Nebraska at Kearney’s production of Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice, while noble in its thwarted attempt to speak on a father’s love for his daughter, left much to be desired.
Ruhl’s 2003 version of this well-known Greek Tragedy follows the title character into Hades after she is seduced and essentially captured by the God of Death. Overcome with grief, Orpheus follows his bride into the depths of hell in order to retrieve her. Hades strikes a deal with our hero; Eurydice will follow him out of hell so long as he does not turn around. Ruhl’s version, however, focuses more on Eurydice’s relationship with her long lost father, a nonexistent character in the original myth, and her decision to remain in Hades rather than return to Earth with Orpheus.
Thus, the high-risk nature of this tale begs for intense, raw, and feverish emotion to be at the forefront of everything. I was gravely disappointed.
With the exception of Hunter T. Scow and the Stones’ adaptation of a biting Greek Chorus, other principal characters fell short of their potential. Several important moments lacked sufficient pacing and intensity. In saying this, I must specifically point out Eurydice’s father.
There are several moments where the audience is succinctly told how deep and prevailing his affection for her has been, even in death. This is highlighted through the thousands of letters he has written to her while in Hades.
I, along with several other audience members, yearned to feel the brevity of this intense father/daughter bond, however both performers never managed to bridge the gap created by lengthy pauses and clunky exchanges. Thus, I was never able to fully buy into the story.
While other aspects begged for critical improvement, I did enjoy the contemporary dance added by director Noelle Bohaty’s choreography; in a world where language is obsolete as Eurydice grapples with her own death, movement is a powerful outlet for expression. This managed to be a glimmering highlight.
Scenic Designer Anthony Knudson did not consider how sight lines get devoured in a deep thrust. Several key points, such as Eurydice’s arrival and the rising action of Orpheus’ journey were blocked upstage. Because of this I missed many of the performances that were delivered on the higher platforms, and various snippets of dialogue were cut as the music shrieked loudly next to my head.
There were several technical aspects that were not clearly marked as necessity, including an elaborate teakettle/water pump that was used only once. Nestled on a revolving platform center stage, “the river of forgetfulness,” which served its purpose for only half of a scene, provided nice beams of light reflected off the water within.
While nightmarish and jaring, I felt the design could have been a little more cohesive and functional. All in all, I applaud UNK for the risks, however unsuccessful, that were taken in this production.
Matthew Schmittdiel--Step Forward
SIOUX FALLS, South Dakota – If you are proud to be an American, then you should exercise your capitalistic right and go buy a ticket for Step Forward. This new production by the University of Central Missouri paints in red, white, and blue what it means to be American, but more importantly what issues define us as a nation.
Step Forward is a newly devised, social justice, performance art piece, developed by a student company. Woah. That’s a lot right there. If you think this would be a hard show to understand-you’re wrong.
Directors Ashley Miller-Scully and Julie Rae Mollenkamp somehow found a way to tell individuals’ stories as a collective and the collective’s story as a whole. From the moment the house doors open, cast members are engaging people to be more than just an audience, but a part of the show. The performance starts off by asking the audience to stand and take a pledge-right hand held high: a modern preamble to the constitution. However, this time we are pledging our solidarity for women’s rights, immigrant support, and an end to police brutality. Each act begins with a new pledge and in episodic rhythm, the story of today’s America is told.
Social justice theatre is tricky. Often a show only touches on one subject plaguing our world, and sometimes it doesn’t even fully explore that one issue. This was not the case for Step Forward. This production discovered each issues’ core and brought that to the forefront of the stage.
The performance art piece uses choreographed dances, songs, and even a step-number to speak on what makes this country great and what makes this country so frustrating to live in. I was surprised at how insignificant any performance mistakes were compared to the message and emotions being delivered by the actors. The chemistry between the ensemble was genuine and highlighted individual’s talents without overshadowing the integrity of the show.
The stage was blank and open for all kinds of movement, with only the audience seating to get in the way. The lights and music worked seamlessly to give each act its own perspective into American life. Above your head four large screens displayed infamous images surrounding each issue or topic, which only drove you deeper into your emotions.
The ensemble’s ability to create a piece bigger than themselves further promoted the overarching message of the night: be kind. The cast members gave out suckers with “be kind” written on the surface. As I walked out the theatre and started licking the sucker, the message on its face soon faded away. However, the message of the night has not left me since and I doubt it has left anyone else that had the chance to see this new production that any American should be proud of.
Michael Cooprider--Step Forward
Friday April 20th, 2018, Hutchinson Kansas, 10am. Students gathered in the quad of Hutchinson High School to protest gun violence in America;as a member of the crowd a certain energy came across me that morning, a prideful and emotional energy. That same energy was felt during Step Forward.
Step Forward is a devised theatre piece from the University of Central Missouri that tackles a number topics affecting several Americans every day. The issues are deforestation, police brutality, Black Lives Matter, women’s rights, and global warming. To tackle the issues the cast performs music and dance numbers ranging from contemporary motions to stomp- clap routines, and occasionally the cast gets the audience involved, for example, in a song about the Black Lives Matter movement audience members are asked to put their hands up.
The show has a very relevant theme of be kind, the audience can see these two powerful words on the projection screens around the auditorium, as well as on the suckers that cast members pass out before the show. The production is intended to unite the audience despite their differences; literally one of the songs is about taking the hands of those around you. The cast also help unite audience members by interacting with them as much as possible, and a large portion of seating is brought onto the stage with the performers.
The choreography for Step Forward is wonderfully orchestrated. Every move flows into the next like an ocean. Additionally the choreography has a clear meaning behind every move, and the actors’ facial expression and body language help further convey the meaning behind every move. One issue with blocking is that the accompanists aren’t very visible and any audience member that isn’t sitting on stage has no idea that the accompanists are actually present. None of the actors drop character, nor do any actor ever miss a step. Every move is perfectly timed and calculated.
Step Forward features fantastic lighting designs; one specific instance is during a song about police brutality red and blue flashing lights shine on an actor shouting “Please! Don’t shoot!”and after the actor falls a spotlight hits another actor on stage in mourning. Lighting for the show is very coordinated, as lighting often is, but the lights add a mood to each song that really draws the audience in.
A weird dynamic of the show is that some parts of the songs, the saxophone and guitar parts, are performed live while every other instrument in the songs was recorded. Another sound aspect of the show that may hinder the audiences experience is that none of the actors or musicians have microphones.
Even without a set the show still has a creative aspect by waving white sheets over the audience during one of the final songs of the shows.
Step Forward left me with an inspired feeling, even though the show is about how divided society is, I left the theatre feeling more united with everyone else in the audience than ever.
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