Katy Smith, a current sophomore at Hope College and active in the Theatre Department, has been writing “since [she] could hold a crayon.” During her senior year of high school, she began a new project—a play. Over the past two years, Katy has written and rewritten this piece, scrapping entire scenes and changing characters’ personalities. Now, she gets the chance to hear her play, titled What I Would Tell You, performed by actors in a staged reading taking place on Wednesday, March 3, at 7:00 pm. It will be directed by Assistant Professor Richard Perez.
In Katy’s words, What I Would Tell You “follows five high schoolers as they go through their senior year. So this means your typical end-of-high-school stuff like dealing with the finality of growing up, friend group drama, family problems, etc. But, it also means dealing with death and the grieving process, through the lens of a young person.” When Katy began writing, her high school had gone through four deaths in four years. The inspiration for the plot stemmed from this feeling that her community was grieving without including the students in high school. The grieving process of the community was entirely separated from them. “I was watching all of these kids around me grieve and it was tough,” Katy said. “That stage of life is so precious—so much changes before you hit college and during it. I just wanted to encapsulate what some of us were going through (though the contents are only very loosely autobiographical).”
What I Would Tell You has gone through many changes during its creation process. Katy noted how the first draft “lacked maturity” though it was “certainly tethered to how [she] spoke and saw the world at that time (her senior year of high school).” She has done several table readings of the script that prompted edits. One such table reading led to a change in the title—the play used to be called Tired Valleity but once Maxwell Lam (‘20) suggested the current title, it stuck.
The staged reading holds a lot of potential for Katy. She’s looking forward to the feedback she will receive, specifically any that will help her “write a better ending and buff out the dents [she’s] not a huge fan of.” Professor Perez noted how staged readings often help playwrights figure out what’s working and what’s not. As the director, he said his role “is to ask pertinent questions that help lead the playwright to their vision of what the play should be.” Writing has always been one of Katy’s biggest passions. Professor Perez was drawn to What I Would Tell You after having Katy in his playwriting class last semester. Katy has a natural talent for dialogue, though she said “I still haven’t figured out how to end a play, I think.” This staged reading provides Katy with the unique opportunity to hear her play read by experienced actors and receive feedback that will help her further her skills as a playwright.
When I was first cast in The Wolves by Sarah DeLappe, directed by Rich Perez, I was intimidated. The play was first produced in 2016, which, when speaking of plays, is very, very recent. This meant a few things: 1.) The play was written with an utmost contemporary take on contemporary speech patterns, 2.) The play has been in the semi-recent consciousness of theatre people and not in the broader consciousness at all, and 3.) I would be given the opportunity to play with a script that has only been done a small number of times. But, don’t all these things sound fun? How could I have been so intimidated?
With an all-woman cast and a truly phenomenal script, I was excited to sink my teeth into this production. My character, #13, is a lot like myself and I adore her as a character, let alone getting to play her. My castmates are wonderfully talented women who each bring their own strengths and experiences to the table, which makes for exciting rehearsals. Still, why was I so nervous?
Frankly, a Shakespeare piece is easier to memorize than a contemporary one. Iambic pentameter takes time to ensure that each line is entirely unique from the ones around it. Contemporary, on the other hand, writes like we speak. It repeats phrases, talks over other people, and says “Dude, what?”, “Uh what?”, “Wait what?”, and the like about a million times in a million different ways (which might be a small exaggeration).
Not only that, but The Wolves is a piece of theatre that is working with a lot of serious topics and themes. A few mentioned on our promotional posters are: death, strong language, and mental health struggles. This only really scratches the surface of the hard topics we as actors have to approach in a very vulnerable and honest way. It’s not easy, but it’s certainly not ungratifying work.
And that’s the other side of the rainbow that is working on The Wolves. Even though I was anxious, the process thus far has been really gratifying and empowering. Some of the cast and I recently went to support a Hope women’s soccer game and it was a wonderful experience. I think the broader culture loves to pit the arts against athletics, so I’ll admit going into this production I did not understand why someone would want to play soccer (other than their mom making them “get out of the house”).
If you haven’t been to one of our women’s soccer games, I seriously recommend it, especially before it gets too cold! Those women are fearless, fierce, and so good at their craft. In a way, it was like watching a different kind of artist at work. Sitting there on the bleachers, sun on my back and cheer in my mouth, I had no stress. I wasn’t worried about the show or my homework; I wasn’t thinking about all the stuff I had to get done that weekend. I was just enjoying the show… Or should I say, the game?
Beyond the extracurricular activities The Wolves has provided me with, I’ve learned a lot about leadership and hard work as an artist. Since our tech week begins this weekend, I do still feel like a lot of the hard work is ahead of me, but boy, am I ready for it! There is something so special about getting to explore a world largely untouched by myself paralleled with the point of view I had for the full six years of my adolescence.
It has been a huge honor to get to work on a piece that elevates the voices of teenage girls so much, and in such a true and honest way to how they are in real life. As a feminist (and a former teenage girl!!), nothing angered me more than the way teenage girls are hated on for the things they like. Think: The Twilight craze, the One Direction fangirl era, Beliebers, and so much more. In this play, they truly shine through all the beauty and ugliness of being a teenager and I adore it. After all, it’s not everyday that you get to play a character so similar to your past self!
Not only that, but it has been an even bigger honor to work with such a loving, compassionate, and kind cast. To Abigail Doonan (’24), Alegría Guzmán (’25), Sara Verduzco (’25), Lisbeth Franzon (’22), Tia Hockenhull (’23), Isabelle Blaney (’25), Danai Mandebvu (’25), and Selena Capman (’24): You all are the best! Acting with such a strong group of women is unlike any theatre experience I’ve ever had. I can’t wait to open this amazing show with you all in just one weeks (eek)!
All that said, we open on October 8th at 7:30 in DeWitt Student and Cultural Center’s main theatre. The show runs through 9-10 and 13-15, all at 7:30 except for the 10th at 2:00. This show deserves a huge audience for the message alone, but we have a few tricks up our sleeves. In the words of our team captain #25, played by Mandebvu (’25), “We’re ready to play!”
Zandra Paxton is a senior at Hope College who has been an active member of the theatre program here at Hope since freshman year. She participated in theatre all throughout high school but did not come to Hope initially as a theatre major. After taking a couple of theatre classes her freshman year, she “fell in love” and subsequently pursued a double major in business and theatre.
Zandra has been writing since middle school and has had the idea for this play for a while now. Originally she was going to turn this story into a memoir, but through the help of her playwriting class last semester, she had the opportunity to bring this story to life: “It’s fun, exciting, but really challenging. What was most beneficial was that I was in a playwriting class so I got to bring my work to the table every week and have my peers critique it, talk about it, and perfect it.”
Zandra’s play, The Consequences of a Miracle, comes to life through an elevated staged reading live-streamed on April 29, 30, and May 1, all at 7:30 pm. Tickets are free. Follow the links to each performance listed below.
Zandra describes the initial impetus for the play: “What happens when the first question everyone asks you is about the most traumatic experience of your life?” According to Zandra The Consequences of a Miracle “follows a woman who is finally getting a chance to tell her side of a story that has haunted her for her entire life. Fantasy melds with reality as the events that took place come to life before our eyes. Everything is not as it seems, and so, the story starts.”
Zandra was inspired to write this play as she saw a lack of roles for people with disabilities in theatre. She explained that “If you want the role, sometimes you have to write it for yourself.” Part of a Theatre Department 490 student project is producing the piece on your own, with the theatre faculty and staff serving as mentors and guides. Zandra reflected upon what it has been like to be the playwright, director, and actor of this play: “It is difficult at times and exciting at times. Sometimes I feel like my brain is being pulled in all different directions, but I really enjoy discovering all these different sides of me. It’s a good time.” Luckily, she has had the support of many people without whom she wouldn’t have been able to put the play together: “I think the beauty of theatre is that it is a collaborative art form. While I have juggled a lot of hats, none of this would be possible if it weren’t for everyone I was working with. This is just why theatre is amazing. When I don’t have an answer I can turn to other people and ask them, What should we do? You are not completely alone in this process.” She has loved every part of putting together this production: “It is the best time ever and it always will be.”
Zandra hopes that the message viewers take away from this play is that “there’s this cultural trap that we tend to fall into when dealing with difficult situations known as ‘idiot compassion.’ Basically, we act in a way to ease someone’s suffering, which ultimately isn’t helpful for that person because we’re too uncomfortable to deal with their pain. By doing this, we teach people that we don’t trust them to take care of themselves. We teach them that there is something wrong with their pain, which creates a vicious cycle of repression and guilt surrounding these difficult times.” She continues, “Sitting and being comfortable with pain, anger, sadness, and all those ‘ugly’ feelings is not easy, but it is necessary for any healing process. Specifically, with children who don’t have the vocabulary yet to understand what they are experiencing, it is necessary to teach them about what they are feeling and to let them know that it is ok. It isn’t going to make things easier for anyone going through a hard time, but it will help them fully process and heal from the situation. We can’t ‘fix’ everything despite how much we want to, but we can hold space for the people we care about and let them know that they’re not alone on their journey to recovery.”
Join us in celebrating Zandra’s accomplishments as the playwright, director, and central actor in The Consequences of a Miracle.
Curtain rises: the date is March 11, 2020; A.K.A, the day Hope students first saw the words “Campus Health | Important Updates from Hope College” in their email inbox. In this email was a message from our President, Matthew Scogin, explaining that all students were to move out of their dorms and return home by the weekend due to the spread of COVID-19. Hope College was no longer a safe space for students to learn and all classes moved online. Students around the world who had been living independently were now logging onto classes via Zoom and Google Meet from their childhood bedrooms. No one knew how long the terror of this virus would last nor how truly devastating its affect on humanity would be.
Theatre is a field that has been especially wounded by the pandemic. The essence of live theatre is a group of people sharing an experience in communion with one another, but that is nearly impossible to do in tandem with proper social distancing. I had the opportunity to speak with a few Hope Theatre alumni from the class of 2020 about their experiences graduating from college while navigating the world of theatre during a pandemic. Here are their stories:
The first alum I had the chance to talk to was Michigan native Teresa Cameon. While at Hope, Teresa was a Musical Theatre Composite major with an emphasis in performance. You may have seen her in various Hope productions such as Into the Woods, Good Kids, and Jane Eyre: The Musical. As a dancer, she also performed in productions such as Dance 44 and Cinderella. Teresa was studying off-campus with the New York Arts Program when Hope shut down and sadly had to cut her semester in The Big Apple short. While in NYC she interned with the off-Broadway theatre company Amas Musical Theatre along with Steps on Broadway, a dance studio for both students and professionals. Teresa stated that she was specifically at work the day everything was shut down:
“It was surreal for all of us to hear that Broadway had gone dark,” said Teresa. “Amas’s own off-Broadway show had to be shut down during one of its last tech rehearsals. It was the strangest feeling to be sitting at work and not having anything to do because all of its future events were cancelled. Throughout my last week at Steps, fewer and fewer dancers came to class. No one imagined that it would ever shut down completely. I had to leave before Steps officially closed its doors.”
After being sent home from the city, Teresa was supposed to be working at Walt Disney World over the summer, but the park first closed and then cancelled her position when it reopened in July. On top of her professional aspirations being postponed, she never got to say goodbye to her fellow classmates at Hope because the 2020 commencement ceremony was also cancelled.
Since quarantine began, theatre companies have had to be creative with how they share their work with the world. There have been many Zoom productions of plays as well as online live recordings. While these changes pose some benefits to the industry, as the internet provides a reach to larger audiences, most theatre artists agree that these alternatives aren’t truly live theatre. In Teresa’s viewpoint, theatre is an essential part of society: “Theatre and dance are all about our person, our humanity, our minds, bodies and souls. There is a connection and understanding between people on stage, people backstage, and people in the audience that you just can’t get from a computer screen.”
Another alumnus with whom I corresponded is Ben Douma. Ben graduated as a Theatre and Communication Composite major with an emphasis in Media Production. Directing and photography are two of Ben’s passions along with acting, but he enjoys directing the most. “Of course, theatre isn’t a basic need for survival, but the theatrical arts have always been a source that challenges authority within society,” said Ben. “Society can’t move forward without those who are willing to push the envelope, and theatre artists certainly do that very well – especially in regard to social justice.” Ben is currently living in Ann Arbor working as a photographer for a car dealership, but says he is staying connected to his artistry by listening to art-related podcasts and watching masterclasses taught by prominent filmmakers.
Recent graduate Gracen Barth also shared her experience with me. Gracen focused mainly on pursuing production management while at Hope but spent some time as an actor as well, such as playing Corey in The Line Between. Gracen is a Texas native but is currently living in NYC. She is also an alumnus of the New York Arts Program. Gracen has an optimistic spirit and chooses to look at the pandemic with a glass half-full mindset. “I’m grateful not to have anyone close to me have a serious case of COVID, and I’m grateful to have still been able to move to the city I want to be in and live with friends and be employed,” said Gracen. She stated that she originally booked a job to be the Administrative Apprentice at the Juilliard School Drama Division, but due to Covid-related budget cuts the position was dissolved. Currently, Gracen is an administrative and personal assistant for a top broker at Douglas Elliman and also works part-time as the production manager for Titan Theatre Company whose artistic director is our very own Hope Summer Repertory Theatre’s Lenny Banovez. Titan has continued to produce virtual productions in the midst of COVID-19.
In being asked for any advice she might have for current theatre students about to enter the profession, Gracen responded, “Now is the time to explore other things. Give yourself the time to figure out if you love theatre. You don’t have to love every aspect (there’s a lot of needed change), you don’t have to love it all the time, but it’s a demanding career and I can’t imagine pursuing it without the love.”
Another ‘20 alum, Maxwell Lam, similarly encourages current students to “take this time to find your artistic center, whatever it may be. Try new things! I never had seriously considered creative writing as a young adult, but with this time in waiting we all have an opportunity to explore new reaches of our creative potential.” Maxwell is currently writing a fantasy novel. “Secondly, don’t give up on your dreams just because there’s little opportunity. Take this time to hone skills that will help your success in the world of fine arts.” said Maxwell. At Hope, Maxwell studied music and acting along with working in the costume shop. You may have seen him as The Baker in Into the Woods with Teresa.
However, not all live theatre is non-existent right now. Another alum from the class of 2020, Katie Joachim, is currently working as an Artist Educator at Kentucky Shakespeare in Louisville, Kentucky. While at Hope, some notable roles Katie played were The Baker’s Wife in Into the Woods as well as Sister Aloysius in Doubt by John Patrick Shanley. At Kentucky Shakespeare, Katie performs four plays along with three other actors and runs six workshops for children in grades K-12. Katie states that Kentucky Shakespeare’s biggest struggle this season is figuring out how to best serve its communities virtually and in a safe manner. “Theatre is without a doubt an essential part of our society,” said Katie. “While film and television have been the lifesavers of this quarantine, I think people are dying to return to being around people. What makes theatre so special is that it is a dialogue between everyone in the room. We all get to experience the same story for an hour and a half; we laugh together, we cry together, we sing together. Theatre puts people from all walks of life into the same space and gives us the opportunity to be together, which is something we are all craving right now.”
As one can see, it may be awhile before live theatre gets back to its normal flow. In fact, theatre as we know it may be forever changed. As of October, Broadway is closed until June 2021 and artists have to be creative with how they share their work. Earlier this semester the Hope Theatre Department produced an outdoor production of Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare, proving that not all hope for live theatre is lost. Art and storytelling are what people turn to in times of need and according to recent graduates, they are an essential part of the human experience. I am confident that the stage lights will be turned back on again soon. In the meantime, it is clear to see that the theatre community is resilient and will continue #KeepingHope.
The Hope College Theatre Department was fortunate enough to have our guest director for the spring production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Johamy Morales, lead a workshop for students during the week of October 20. Johamy will be spending time in 2020 with the cast in preparation for the production, but she was able to give us a small taste of what is to come during the week-long training. She holds an MFA in Acting from Ohio State University, was previously the Education Director at Creede Repertory Theatre in Colorado, and is currently the Director of Education at Seattle Children’s Theatre. Through her broad range of experience she was able to bring a new perspective to tackling Shakespeare.
We started each session with basic vocal and physical warm-ups. There were exercises such as passing a ball around the circle while naming our favorite desserts instead of each other’s names. Tossing the ball ensured that we were communicating clearly with our body language and fully receiving the energy from the person who tossed the ball to us. We then transitioned into a follow-the-leader style exercise of movement which challenged our openness, imagination, focus, and precision. We morphed our movements to copy the leader. At times the exchange was so smooth that it was difficult to decipher who was initiating the movements. The group discussed how this taught us not to impose but rather to flow with the ensemble so that no single person dominated and we worked as a unified whole.
As the warm-ups and large group work came to an end, Johamy led us in what she called “table work.” This involved learning about scansion, rhythm, paraphrasing the text, and all the nitty-gritty aspects of working with Shakespeare. The first few days we learned singular lines at a time and moved around the space to incorporate their rhythms into our bodies. The physicality also allowed us to explore the many possibilities of the lines and find intentions, meanings, and motivations for each segment.
In small groups we dissected a brief section of text with Johamy at the ready to answer any questions. She assured us that all questions were good questions, and everyone was comfortable and ready to absorb as much of her knowledge as possible. The passages grew longer as the workshop went on and we eventually analyzed and paraphrased a short scene.
The week culminated with a chance for the participants to work on individual monologues with Johamy. One exercise she introduced to strengthen our monologues was using general, small household items and attaching a specific person, word, or action to each item while speaking. In doing so, the actor’s performance grew more specific and the monologue became a more compelling story. Johamy also pushed us to “chew our words,” meaning to enunciate words more than we often think necessary. Johamy taught us the importance of using the language that Shakespeare has already given us and to focus on acting “with it/on it” rather than“around it/on top of it.” Shakespeare’s plays demand direct and bold “on-the-line” acting.
Working with Johamy Morales for a week was a powerful and exhilarating experience. The enthusiasm she has created around Shakespeare is palpable. We cannot wait to see her work on Twelfth Night, so mark your calendars for April 17–18, 23–25 at 7:30 p.m and April 19 at 2 p.m!
All seniors who graduate from Hope College with a theatre degree are required to do one of two things: complete an internship or create a project, known as a 490. Megan Clark, a triple major in theatre, education, and history, has always known she would finish up her career at Hope with a 490 project. This semester, she is collaborating with fellow student, Makeya Royer to co-produce a play. Instead of turning to a published play, Megan and Makeya have chosen to produce a new work written by Megan:“The ‘S’ Word”, to help spread awareness of an issue that has impacted and continues to impact our culture : suicide.
Throughout her time at Hope, Megan has been involved in a variety of devised and student-led productions. All of these processes, from devised piece The Line Between to 490 Her Real Name Was, written by Deana Velandra (2018), have been primary influencers in Megan’s drive to create a meaningful piece. Megan was both cast in and designed scenery for Velandra’s production. She credits this production as being the moment her desire to write her own play was born: “I knew after being a part of the experience that I wanted to be able to write my own small play. But I didn’t want to direct it, I wanted to be in it.” So she is.
Megan partnered with Makeya, who is co-producer and director of the play, while Megan plays a character based on her own experiences. Makeya also serves as the play’s lighting designer in true theatre fashion, wearing different creative hats to bring the piece to life. Throughout her time at Hope College, Makeya has taken every opportunity she can to work with and observe theatre faculty as they direct productions. She loves to act, but through her experiences she has also learned that she enjoys putting together a show from behind the scenes as well. She says: “Hope has opened a door for me to experience what the process of directing is. I find passion in this because I still like acting, but I sometimes don’t want to work center stage. It’s a nice balance of still being a part of acting, but also working in the shadows to bring a productions together.”
“The ‘S’ Word” is woven together in a way that pulls a story line from Megan’s own life while also taking fictional liberties. The plot follows a girl named ‘M’ as she navigates her college experience with roadblocks such as depression, anxiety, rocky parental relationships, and more. In the play, ‘M’ works to keep up with her friendships and classes as she also works through the hardships of being a bisexual student attending a conservative university.
When I asked Megan what she hopes her audience will take away from the production, she gave me two answers.
First, she said: “There is no one right way to deal with life. There is also no one right way to come out, if that is where you are at in life, because this play deals with sexuality. Life is messy, but the important thing is that you find those people that are going to support you through it. If you don’t have a supportive family, create your own family with the people you meet. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you get to a certain point. It’s okay to ask for professional help.”
She then adamantly concluded: “We need to talk about suicide. We keep shoving it under the rug. We have also kind of romanticized what suicide is. I hope my play doesn’t do that, because I want it to be painful, ugly, and real. If anyone is feeling like they are in that position, it is okay to ask for help. If you have a friend that is in that position, don’t tell them their feelings are invalid. Know the warning signs.”
When I asked Makeya the same question, she also had words of encouragement for the audience. She emphasized that “you are not alone.” She then went on to say: “The world has an idea of who you should be, but that doesn’t mean you should be that person. You should be you, and in order to be you, you don’t have to be ashamed to seek out help, such as therapy. There is nothing wrong with seeking professional help . You’re not alone, just be you.”
“The ‘S’ Word” is a moving story that deals with issues very relevant to our society today. Due to its painful content, Megan, Makeya, and their creative team want to make sure that everyone in the audience will be supported. The number for the Suicide Prevention Hotline is included in all advertising for the production. There will also be a talk back after every performance, offering closure on the content of the play for those interested in discussing its contents and connections to the outside world.
“The ‘S’ Word,” written and co-produced by Megan Clark, is co-producted and directed by Makeya Royer. The cast includes Megan Clark, Emma Clark, Emi Herman, and Judah Renshaw. Its creative team is made up of Valerie Dien (stage management), Timothy Embertson (scenic design), Peter Hayward (sound design), Maxwell Lam (costume design), and Makeya Royer (lighting design). Performances will be held in the DeWitt Studio Theatre on November 1 at 7:30 p.m., and November 2 at 3:00 and 7:30 p.m.. Tickets are $2 at the door.
It’s been quite an experience to move off of Hope’s campus for the fall semester and immerse myself in LA’s Hollywood industry. It’s pretty different out here, but I personally enjoy this environment a lot. I figure I’ll share some of my experiences and observations in a short blog-like format for those on Hope’s campus.
School is a 10-minute walk away from my apartment, on the 16th floor of a building that also houses a bunch of casting agencies- so there’s a constant stream of actors going in and out. The view from my school is phenomenal. It directly faces the Hollywood sign and the Griffith Observatory, and you can see the city sprawl for miles and miles.
I am taking 10 credits of classes which meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays. My fellow students are all very passionate about making art through film production, which is really cool. Our big semester project has split the students (30 total) into two teams. Each team is working on producing an original 10-minute TV pilot episode. I am one of two cinematographers on our team, so we are in charge of setting up the lighting and operating the camera equipment. Pre-production has all come together so we are starting filming this weekend, and, man… 10-hour shooting days are draining.
On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I have my internship. The program that I’m taking classes through has set me up with an internship at a camera rental house, where I’m occasionally able to get my hands on some top-notch industry-standard cinema cameras. Pretty cool stuff, as seen below.
It’s interesting to see how many of my expectations about LA have been proven false. I assumed that LA would be a bustling place of people with city-smugness on their faces. But wow, is LA chill. Often, people even give you that signature “friendly passerby smile when you make eye contact” that you see everywhere at Hope. In LA, most people’s craziness is reserved for when they are driving on the road. That expectation was fulfilled and then some.
I’ve been lucky enough to get an inside look at the Hollywood industry, and it’s unique to any other industry I’ve seen. On one end of things, there is a great comradery between people that are working together on projects. But you also see that many people are operating with a socially transactional mindset. This is mostly due to the fact that you need to have good connections and a broad network if you want to move up the ladder in the film industry. You sometimes see that people in the biz won’t take the time to get to know you if they realize that you don’t have anything to offer them in terms of their career advancement. Which is a little off-putting.
Being out here and focusing so much on storytelling has made me very thankful for the experiences that I have been given by Hope’s Theatre Department and Vanderprov. I find myself at an advantage within these creative circles in LA because for the past three years, I have spent hours upon hours entrenched in the nitty-gritty of story development and character exploration during rehearsals. And not to mention the level of professionalism that is expected while being involved in a Hope theatre production. It’s something I hadn’t truly realized until I got out here and had to start applying my storytelling skills to a further extent.
So if you’re thinking of coming out to LA anytime soon, I highly recommend it. I haven’t even begun to mention the thrill of celebrity sightings, studio tours (as seen in the photo, I got to hold a real Oscar award!), and free tickets to shows like America’s Got Talent, Jimmy Kimmel, etc. It’s fun stuff. Plus, the sun is always shining. But believe it or not, I’m starting to miss the brisk breezes and changing colors of autumn of Hope’s campus…
During the week of September 2, Hope College’s Theatre Department was lucky enough to host playwright Arlene Hutton as she worked on her new play, The Shakers of Mount Lebanon Will Hold A Peace Conference This Month. Hope College has committed to staging a production of the play, opening on November 15. Our Theatre Department is a member of the Big Bridge Consortium, providing us the opportunity to work on new plays, such as The Shakers. The Big Bridge Consortium is a group of twelve colleges that have commissioned three playwrights to each create one play focused on peace and faith. Arlene’s play is the first of the three to be written.
Arlene Hutton’s residency was a completely new theatre experience for me. I, like many of the other students involved, have never been in a room with a playwright actively revising the play we’re preparing to create. After each rehearsal and read -through, Arlene provided an opportunity for the actors to express their thoughts, letting the group be vocal about what they liked and what they were confused about. It demonstrated her willingness to listen and work with us theatre students. She listened to the ideas presented and took each into consideration, letting the conversation flow as a respectful group discussion when trying to decide whether or not to make a change. One of the key phrases Arlene asked the group to frame their thinking around was “What if?” This phrase places people in a more open mindset, allowing themselves to think about the possibilities of a script or a change and not focus on a negative “I don’t like” statement, which ultimately adds nothing constructive to the script writing process.
I was also fortunate enough to be a part of a production meeting Arlene attended. Her knowledge of Shaker history was astonishing. While we were examining photos of Shakers from the play’s time period, Arlene named nearly every Shaker pictured, while also knowing their general role in the community, too. Additionally, she shared a wealth of information on the clothing the Shakers wore, indicating her devotion to sharing her play’s historical world.
On Saturday, the last day of Arlene’s stay at Hope, the cast spent the last half hour of rehearsal asking questions about her profession. We learned a lot about her varied career in the theatre, having worked as a playwright, a dresser for Saturday Night Live, an actor, and a house manager. She taught us that if someone is truly invested in working in the theatre world, it doesn’t matter what role they take in it; they will find fulfillment in the joy of creating meaningful art. Over Arlene Hutton’s weeklong residency at Hope College, she deeply impacted each one of us working on the production, and left us with a wonderful play to produce.
Last Fall, a group of Hope Theatre students started Theatre Symposium. The mission is to give students resources to grow as a theatre artists through conversations and workshops with working professionals, new play readings, and audition techniques.
Symposium engages in a holistic, encouraging intra-arts environment by including student artists from a variety of disciplines, bringing them together and connecting them with Hope alumni who are currently working in the arts. One of the ways Symposium is achieving this is through holding “mock” dance calls. Symposium has held two such dance calls to date, intended for Theatre and Dance students; with choreography by Hope Dance Department majors.
These audition workshops were monitored by current Theatre Symposium President Katie Joachim.
Symposium highlights this year also include visits from Hope Alumni:
Symposium’s first workshop was with Tiny Breakfast, a Grand Rapids-based improv troupe. Founding members Jake Mate (’17) and Ezra Sprik (’16) led students in various warm-ups and games, and offered tips for how to build and improve strong skills in improv.
Lauren Ezzo (‘15) has become a prominent figure in the audio book industry (recognition incudes an Audie Nomination for her readings in Nevertheless We Persisted and five “Earphone” awards from Audiofile), came and talked about how to succeed in the audiobook industry and find a niche as an artist after college.
The final visit for the year was a skype call with Eric Van Tassell (’08), Lighting Director of the Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center in Lady Lake, Florida, and former Hope Summer Repertory Theatre Production Manager. He responded to student questions about technical applications and walked us through resume and cover letter tips.
With elections for next year on the horizon, Theatre Symposium is looking forward to the coming years and how to grow and develop to more fully fulfill its mission. Meetings are held every other Tuesday at 9:30pm in the DeWitt Studio Theater. Please drop by!
The Hope College Theatre Department opened our first mainstage production of 2018, “The Glass Menagerie”, this past weekend! The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams tells the story of the Wingfield family. Recalled through the eyes of Tom, the memory play shares the story of his mother, Amanda, and his sister, Laura. As a young girl, Amanda was a fêted debutante with a life of comfort and admiration. Amanda now worries especially about the future of her daughter. As an extremely shy 23-year-old, Laura has yet to find a suitor. Instead, she spends most of her time quietly arranging her glass animals. Tom is a writer who feels trapped in a dead-end warehouse job and dreams of a more adventurous life. As each escapes into a personal “glass menagerie” the play provides a glimpse into a family that is desperate to break free of the burdens of its past and present.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Daina Robins, the director of the production as well as the Chair of the Theatre Department, and ask her a few questions about the process.
Olivia: WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO DIRECT THE GLASS MENAGERIE?
Daina: I never really thought about directing it. Actually, Rich Perez, [associate professor of theatre at Hope] mentioned it, so I can give him credit for planting the idea. Frankly, it had to do with anticipating that he was going to be casting a large number of women in his production this semester. Partly, it was choosing something that I thought would give three undergraduate students a role that comes by once in your lifetime. Of course, this is the case with a lot of plays, but most of them are not as great [as “The Glass Menagerie”]. To have the experience working on such a classic play allows you to appreciate what a lyrical, musical, and tender writer that Williams is. I’ve seen productions of it, there are film productions of it, but working on it allows you to know it in a deeper way. I think a lot of undergraduate students don’t know the play, and a lot of the people in our audience haven’t seen it. And, we haven’t had Jean [Bahle, adjunct assistant professor of theatre at Hope and also playing the role of Amanda] act for us for a number of years…not since 2004, when we did a production of The Golden Ladder in the studio theatre. I’ve directed her a number of times, and I thought it would be a lovely role for her. The students really have a chance to learn from her, and I didn’t feel I was taking a role away from a female student because, between the student-directed productions and Rich’s devised piece, I felt there were enough opportunities for the women who were ready for it. So it’s a lot of balancing what you think the department wants and needs, what we can design, and it’s a beautiful play that again I don’t think many Hope students have seen.
Olivia: YOU’VE DIRECTED GUEST ARTISTS QUITE A FEW TIMES IN THE PAST, EVEN PRETTY RECENTLY ON JANE EYRE THE MUSICAL AND THE TEMPEST. WHAT IS IT LIKE DIRECTING JEAN, WHO IS ONE OF YOUR COLLEAGUES, ALONG WITH YOUR STUDENTS?
Daina: Well, I joke that I’m Jean’s evil twin sister. I met Jean when I first came to Grand Rapids, before I even got the job at Hope. She is such a kind, gentle person, and I’m not [laughs]. But we’ve always kind of really gotten along, and I think we appreciate each other and recognize some kind of simpatico both personality wise and artistically. She’s incredibly easy to direct, because she’s such an open, generous actor. She is used to working with people who are learning, and she’s ahead of the game. She’s a wonderful actor, and she raises the play for everyone else, and she does it in this generous way, you never feel like she’s impatient with others. She’s a sensitive, insightful, and incredibly humble person.
Olivia: WHAT IS SOMETHING THAT YOU HOPE OUR AUDIENCE IN HOLLAND WILL TAKE AWAY FROM THIS PRODUCTION?
Daina: There’s a whole history surrounding the play, and I think on one hand we’re honoring that. I think sometimes Amanda gets a raw deal. I really empathize with her…she is alone, she’s raised these children on her own, it’s coming out of the Depression…she makes total sense to me. Yes, she has wonderful memories of her youth…but I don’t even blame her for that. I have a lot of sympathy for Amanda, and I think she’s often cast as the domineering mother and I don’t think that’s what she is. Jean as an actor has an incredible ability to complicate or humanize characters that someone else might just put in a “mean” category. I think her portrayal of Amanda also helps us see the humanity of her. And I think the play also tries to help us see that everybody is special in some way, and it’s up to us to find that in each other, rather than just saying ‘well, this person doesn’t fit in.’ Yes, Laura doesn’t fit in, but Tom doesn’t fit in either…so in some ways, as we all struggle to fit in we sometimes take away those edges of ourselves, the things that make us unique. Rather, let’s see every person as an individual, and find what they’re about.
Remaining performances of The Glass Menagerie will be Thursday-Saturday, February 22-24 at 7:30 p.m in the DeWitt Center main theatre.