By Charlotte Suttee
“New Plays in Two Days” efforts to give opportunities to first-year and new theater students to showcase their talent.
Sarah Mixon (C’ 21), member of the Sewanee Studio Theater Company (SSTC), said that this third show, held September 7 at 7 p.m., was “the most student-led yet,” including the first first-year director, who directed one of the four plays.
The young director is Kristopher Kennedy (C’ 23), who orchestrated Mixon’s play called Shiny Happy People Laughing. This short play answered the lyrical prompt, “It’s the end of the world as we know it…” featuring a broken-hearted store clerk, the brother of a dying man, and a broken gumball machine.
“I was a little nervous,” said Kennedy. “[Previously]I only directed a short scene in my junior theater class in highschool.”
Kennedy volunteered himself as a director for this program because no upperclassmen from the directoral class spoke up, and he understood the value of a helping hand in the theater department.
“Kristopher was impressive because a lot of times freshman don’t want to come in and direct,” said Mixon. “He offered himself…He was ready to take initiative and be a leader and direct my play!”
Mixon was one of the four playwrights given 24 hours to write a play, then Kennedy was one of four directors assigned a play by drawing from a hat at 5 p.m. on Friday. Kennedy had roughly 24 hours to prepare the show before the stage lights would open to the performance of Shiny Happy People Laughing.
Kennedy didn’t let the rushed rehearsal period stress him out: “It was a fun atmosphere because everyone is going in with the knowledge that these were hastily put together,” said Kennedy. “It was like controlled chaos in a way that was really fun.”
He rehearsed outside with his actors Joseph Brown ( C’ 23) and Emma Miller (C’23) after receiving the script. On Saturday he was placed in the studio theater to rehearse, which is open to the audience on three-sides, and Kennedy was blocking (positioning his actors) for the black box stage, which opens to the audience on one side only.
“I was like, ‘shoot.’ [It is] hard to block for that sort of space,” said Kennedy. “With the way we had been doing it, the audience is going to be looking at [the actor’s] butt for 90 percent of the show. That was a challenge because even as an actor I never worked in a space like that, so I tried to have it so at least one of them, at all times, was facing at least two-thirds of the audience.”
He also told his actors to take advantage of beats, which are pauses between dialogue, so their words could have more impact. Then he worked out the lights during the tech rehearsal, two hours before he sat down as an anonymous audience member in the packed house, the area where the audience sits.
“It was rewarding to see the actors do justice to this great play Sarah Mixon had written,” said Kennedy.
“I think Kristopher did a great job,” said Mixon. “This was the first play I’d written that I’ve seen performed, so this was very surreal for me… It was amazing… It’s so crazy how people take things and they run with it.”
“I was happy to help the professors with whatever they wanted…” said Kennedy, who, when he’s not called to direct, will focus on acting. In the fall production Our Country’s Good, Kennedy becomes Captain Arthur Philip, the lieutenant governor, leading convicts to a penal colony to what we now know as Australia.
Kennedy describes the character and an “age-of-reason guy who sees the humanity in the convicts” who encourages one of the officers to put on a play that the prisoners will act in. Sewanee’s production of Our Country’s Good will unveil October 10-13 at the Tennessee Williams Center.
Mixon mentions that anyone can pitch their play to the SSTC; there are many ways to get involved in theater here at Sewanee, so reach out.