Play series highlights fresh talent
When audience members take their seat during this weekend’s production of 7X7 Plus One, the stage may look a little unusual. In fact, eight plays are being performed, ranging from drama to comedy.
7X7 Plus One gets it name through a collaboration between an Advanced Directing class and an Acting I class. Early this fall, the seven directing students each selected a ten-minute play before casting the performers from among the students in the acting class. But with 28 students needing parts, theater professor Dan Workman had to get creative.
“The acting class this semester was a lot bigger, and so when they chose their plays we didn’t have enough roles for all the people,” Workman said.
Then comes the ‘Plus One,’ an additional play directed by alumnus Jeff Larsen bringing the total of plays to eight.
And with the set built around each production, the final result is what’s known as a unit set: each of the stage areas is built to house multiple plays, transitions are then just a matter of swapping props.
But working under the limitations of time and space has also shaped each director’s approach towards the script. Learning how to bring out the playwright’s intent involves both style choices and individual interpretations.
“I think the most difficult part of it was for me to figure out how to get the emotional meaning of the play out through primarily vocal expression, rather than physical movement, because the actors are confined to small spaces,” senior Amber Ellis said. “So basically we’re trying to keep the audience engaged and interested with not a lot of movement going on.”
Ellis is directing The Grand Design by Susan Miller. The main character, Josh, is chosen to send a message into space to test for alien life forms. As he tries to decide what to say, he begins to explore what it means to be human.
During the play, Josh’s mother is on a trip across the U.S. To show distance, “a lot of what we did was achieved through lighting, to show the different places she was in,” Ellis said. “And to show that she’s actually separate from Josh while they’re on the same stage.”
Other plays, like Stuck by Claire Reeve, directed by junior Sage Backer, features only two people, with just one onstage.
The plot is about a woman on a business trip who (spoiler alert) gets stuck in an elevator. From there, “it’s all about the antics that go on,” Backer said.
When selecting a play in early September to direct, “I was reading [Stuck] and it made me laugh out loud, which is a big part of it,” Backer said. “So I’m hoping to get a lot of laughs.”
Like Backer, humor played a large role in senior Miranda Miller’s decision to direct The Interrogation by Murphy Guyer. After reading the script, she thought it would be “something that I would enjoy directing, and I thought it would be fun to bring to life,” Miller said.
The humor begins almost instantaneously when two exes meet in a bar. Striking up a conversation, the man starts asking his old girlfriend questions about the relationships she has been in since they broke up.
Considering herself more of an actress, Miller said she’s been on stage more than working behind the scenes. But this production is all about bringing new faces to center stage.
“I’ve really learned how to communicate differently with people because they aren’t necessarily the normal theater people that I’ve interacted with,” Miller said. “It’s been interesting to build relationships with these two new people and just to see their new energy.”
The 28 students featured in the play aren’t just theater majors, and for some, this is their first time on stage. But Miller said regardless of their familiarity with theater production, everyone’s committment has been excellent.
“This isn’t just the theater company,” Miller said. “This is kind of all of Augie putting on this show, which is a really, really cool concept,” Miller said.