For senior theatre majors Ariannah Gaiser and Sarah Nolting, procrastination could not be the answer to their senior capstone projects.
These projects were two years in the making, and though they were cancelled last Spring due to COVID, the shows will be available to all audiences this weekend, Feb. 4 – 6. Nolting’s “Death and Renewal” will run Feb. 4 and 6 with performances at 7:30 p.m. Gaiser’s “Lies” will run Feb. 5 and 6 with performances at 7:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. respectively.
Gaiser’s performance will be an hour-long play reading of “Lies,” which Gaiser wrote herself and draws on the film noir era of the 1930s.
“I’m drawn towards film and TV, so, when I write you can even see it in a lot of my stage directions,” Gaiser said. “I’m thinking very visually, sometimes outside the constraints of the play…I was actually interested in taking something that would seem to be more like a television show and put it on the stage to see a different piece of art that you could create.”
Gaiser’s playwriting journey started her freshman year when she participated in an one-act play written by a senior that year.
“I really enjoyed it and was really proud of the student who did the work and I thought, you know, it would be cool to at least have the opportunity to do something like this,” she said.
Gaiser described the playwriting class as a great experience which gave her “the chance to hone something I had only done by myself before.”
She studied under retired professor of theatre George Angell, and said he was a great source of feedback. His advice helped her own her ideas and fight for her work, she said.
“He would always preface his feedback with ‘this is my opinion’ and that will be anything anyone ever says about your work is ‘opinion’ and it’s up to you to decide whether you take it or not,” Gaiser said.
For her play, Gaiser sought to write a work that was highly stylized to give it a different sort of feel than regular theatre. The plot revolves around two detectives, one of whom has the unique ability to detect lies, as they investigate a mysterious cult.
“I wanted to see, what would a person who could tell lies be like in a world where it’s pretty normal to not be honest all the time?” Gaiser said.
Playing alongside “Lies,” comes Sarah Nolting’s directorial debut, “Death and Renewal” is divided into two short plays titled “The Drunken Sisters” by American playwright Thornton Wilder, and “The Exorcism” by Eugene O’Neill. Both run about half an hour each. Unlike its name suggests, “The Exorcism” has less to do with demonic possession and more to do with a deep catharsis experienced by the characters, and by extension the audience. O’Neill’s play concerns a disillusioned young man whose friends seek to explain the beauty still left in the world.
“It’s really more like being exorcised by the evils within you, not necessarily anything supernatural, but sadness and things like that,” Nolting said.
“The Drunken Sisters,” is more lighthearted and meant to relieve the heavier tones of “The Exorcism” while still exploring the same themes of death and renewal. In it, the Greek god Apollo seeks to save the life of his mortal friend, King Admetus, and in the process encounters the ancient Fates, three immortals with the power to determine life and death.
Both seniors said time was the main obstacle to their projects. Gaiser said that it was hard to figure out how the plot wove together, and then to write it in enough time. Nolting said that scheduling issues around all the actors and their various classes and extracurriculars made it difficult to find time to practice.
In both plays, Nolting said she wanted to explore a “unique American perspective” by asking the questions: “how do we deal with struggles? How do we deal with suffering? Each play sort of responds in its own way, and each character responds in their own way.”
Concerning the audition process, Nolting said that she “was looking for people who would be capable of taking a script, were willing to memorize over break, and come back ready to take it on.”
She said that casting and picking the right team of actors contributes to 80% of a director’s tasks.
“The most important job a director has is understanding the play and exploring the possibilities of it,” Nolton added.