Work meets play in School of Drama festival

Last weekend, students from the School of Drama came together in the annual independent student works festival, Playground. Playground is a three-day festival in which students create their own experimental works to be performed or shown during the festival. During this year’s event, all performances were free and open to the public, and the pieces varied in style from mockumentaries, to vintage black-and-white silent films, to live musical performances.

The festival kicked off Thursday evening with an opening ceremony. During the ceremony, a slideshow of photographs set to music from the week’s rehearsals was shown amid cheering and laughter from the students in the audience. After the photographs, a video mockumentary (The Drama Office) showed what happened in the planning committee in the style of the popular television show The Office, even using the same theme song.

In addition, the head of the School of Drama, Elizabeth Bradley, spoke about her vision for Playground, which she started five years ago in order to give the students an opportunity to produce their own creative works.

The atmosphere of Playground is laid-back, and students are encouraged to be experimental and creative.

“Playground is an amazing festival. It is one of my favorite things about the School of Drama. I feel privileged to go to a school that allows its students this opportunity,” said sophomore drama major Amanda Cooper.

“There is nothing like seeing your work,” said MFA drama student Rob Smith. “Playground is that: It’s a time to play. It’s a time to go out on a limb and try, experiment, do that one thing you’ve wanted to do but haven’t had the time to do. It’s putting all your training and knowledge to the test, or in my case, making fun of it.”

Students can participate in as many pieces as they choose, but in this case, less may be more.

“I participated in three pieces freshman year,” Cooper said. “It was hectic, exciting, intimidating, daunting, and amazing all at the same time. My experience this year, in choosing to participate in one single piece, has allowed me to garner more of a leadership role and put all of my energy into [one] project.”

The Closed Theatre

The first student work after the opening ceremony was Smith’s mockumentary, The Closed Theatre, which is about a theater group of the same name that is never seen. The film claims that the group can instead be felt, because its acting is so powerful.

“*The Closed Theatre* is a project I started at the end of last year,” Smith said. “My first year was an intense study of playwriting and theater, so I wanted to make fun of everything I had learned. Since it’s a movie about theater, what better place to screen it than for theater people?”

In the film, director Sean Bean (pronounced shon bon — he’s French-Polynesian, so it rhymes) is attempting to organize a show in which the doors will be closed and no one will be allowed in. The actors are given instructions to begin a scene without moving or speaking. Then, Sean Bean runs out of the room to see whether the actors are successful in making the scene felt to those outside of the theater.

Sean Bean tells the camera that the Closed Theatre is well-known for having the youngest Lady Macbeth ever — Morgana, who played the role, was only 8 years old. At the performance directed by Sean Bean, the camera is forced to wait outside the door. We never find out what happened during the show, but we are told by Morgana that it wasn’t about pedophilia.

The film, which started as a final project for a course taken by Smith, took two weeks of planning and one week of filming and editing.

The Closed Theatre was a humorous parody of how the theater world really works. The use of both students and faculty members also made this film unique, allowing the latter to be portrayed in a humorous light. In one case, a faculty member runs out of the interview to “show” the camera a performance (which the audience is supposed to feel, not see) and becomes angry when the camera follows him. He refuses to continue the interview, then soon after changes his mind, resuming the interview.

“I was happy with the screening, but I have a feeling I’ll keep working on this project,” Smith said.

A Soft Crime

Sophomore drama major Graham Swindoll showed his film, A Soft Crime, Friday afternoon. The film, which was silent and in black and white, was divided into several named sections, such as “A Friend is a Friend.” Swindoll wrote, directed, and filmed the piece.

The movie begins with a woman painting her nails. After she finishes, there is a scene in which a bag of money is taken from a box. The audience doesn’t really see more of this crime or the woman with painted nails, but in the program’s description of the play, it defines “soft,” saying, “Yielding readily to touch or pressure; easily penetrated, divided, or changed in shape.” Given this definition, the audience is led to expect that the crime will somehow be changed through the course of the film.

The scene shifts to show two friends together, played by drama sophomores Lora Lee Gayer (the blonde) and Sophia Feldman (the brunette). The friends hang out together in an old house doing things like cutting each other’s hair. When the brunette friend is beaten by a man, her friend watches from a hidden location. Later, the women kill the man, transforming the crime from a theft into a murder.

Many segments looked like old home videos, creating a pleasant effect — the subjects appeared very natural and the costumes were truly reminiscent of older times. The makeup techniques provided a good contrast of colors, making the use of black-and-white filming effective.

The Count of Monte Cristo

Alexandre Dumas’ classic novel, The Count of Monte Cristo, was brought to the stage by Amanda Cooper. The musical version was written by Brett Boles, a then-senior at Ithaca College. Boles came to Carnegie Mellon to direct Cooper’s show while she worked as the assistant director of the show.

“I read about the production, talked to a few people who had seen it, and thought ‘This could be a great Playground piece,’” Cooper said. “I contacted Brett Boles, the composer and lyricist, through an array of online searching, and we decided it would be a great opportunity.”

Because each show had to be 45 minutes long or less, much of the script was cut; some of the musical numbers were cut in half, and parts of the plot were skipped altogether. For example, a main part of The Count of Monte Cristo is Edmond’s revenge, and the Playground performance skimmed over this by having a narrator announce what had happened. This by no means made the performance unsuccessful; in fact, it added an element of humor to an otherwise solemn musical.

Like other Playground pieces, the cast had only one week to learn their parts and rehearse. During the first half of the week, the cast learned its vocal and speaking parts. The rest of the week was spent choreographing the stage performance with Boles, who traveled from Connecticut to help with the production.

In the story, Edmond (drama sophomore Nick Cosgrove) is wrongly incarcerated in a French prison, where he meets Faria (drama sophomore Ross Francis), an older man who is also serving time in prison. Faria teaches Edmond how to be noble, making him promise not to use what he learns for revenge — a promise Edmond does not keep.

Meanwhile, Mercedes (Cooper), Edmond’s fiancee, marries Fernand (drama junior Bernie Balbot), the man who betrayed Edmond and was responsible for his imprisonment. After Edmond exacts his revenge, Mercedes refuses to take him back, and the show ends with a full ensemble performance.

The cast and orchestra both performed well, giving the impression of a group that had rehearsed for more than a week. The vocals were strong and, despite the cuts made to the show, it was an enjoyable experience.

They Say I Have...

They Say I Have..., located in the lobby bathroom stairs at Purnell, is an exhibit by sophomore drama major Alana Clapp of an assortment of photographs portraying different body parts. The photographs are sepia-toned and some are torn, appearing to be ripped from magazines.

The point of the exhibit is to show that everyone is beautiful in some way; the tagline in the program states that “everyone should love a part of themselves.” The photographs portray different body parts ranging from eyes to backs.

A blurb next to the photographs says, “It doesn’t matter what shape or size, everyone has something that is beautiful.”

This statement rang true throughout Playground weekend, as each piece showcased a unique blend of actors and talents brought together by Carnegie Mellon students.