Any theater buff is sure to find something at the Senior Thesis Festival this month, whose stories range from the bizarre—a priest trapped on an island—to the conceptual, such as the story of a woman without a sense of smell. Drama & Theatre Arts majors will present their senior theses in two installments of the Senior Thesis Festival this month in the Minor Latham Playhouse. The first installment will include three well-known plays directed by students for their theses, while the second will feature solo performances and staged readings of new, original works by students. Here’s our guide to a month of student work.
BARNARD THESIS FESTIVAL I
If you can get away from Bacchanal, from April 13-15 the Barnard Senior Thesis Festival I will feature Maurice Maeterlinck’s “The Blind,” directed by Alexandra Clayton, GS ’12, Tennessee Williams’s “The Long Goodbye,” directed by Louisa Levy, CC ’12, and Michael John LaChiusa’s “Gloryday,” directed by Cody Haefner, CC ’12 and with costume design by Amy Larrowe, BC '12. Each play is less than 50 minutes long and will run each night in repertory, starting at 7 p.m.
The productions are designed, managed, and performed by Barnard and Columbia students. Department faculty members Sharon Fogarty and Sandra Goldmark are serving as the directing and design adviser, respectively.
Synopsis: “The Blind” follows 12 blind citizens, abandoned on an island by their priest. Maeterlinck’s script dramatizes the citizens’ predicament by including the priest’s dead body on stage during the entire one-act production, which the blind citizens cannot recognize.
Clayton could not be reached for comment.
“The Long Goodbye”
Synopsis: Set in 1940, this one-act play follows Joe, nostalgic for the family members who have left him behind in favor of their personal dreams.
Director’s note: “The audience will hopefully discover a personal nostalgia for their own childhood during moments of the play that resonate with them,” Levy wrote in an email. “I was particularly drawn to ‘The Long Goodbye’ because I am interested in the concept of theatricalizing memory.”
Synopsis: This musical follows a disillusioned priest after the events of September 11, 2001.
Director’s note: “The play explores religious ritual and practice as a performance, and my production seeks to explore that performative relationship as well as question who the audience is,” Haefner wrote in an email. “My cast, designers, and I have also been exploring ideas about confession, deception, and the relativity of truth. A lot of the inspiration for this particular production also came from ideas specifically tied to America and New York.”
BARNARD THESIS FESTIVAL II
The second installment of the Senior Thesis Festival will feature solo performances by Kimberly Shepherd, BC ’12, and Tara Sonin, BC ’12, on April 27 and 28 at 8 p.m. and original plays by Emma Goidel, BC ’12, Emily Nagel, CC ’12, and Jacob Rice, CC ’12, on April 28 at 3 p.m., 6 p.m., and 7 p.m. Department faculty members Sylvan Oswald and Kyle deCamp are advising the playwriting theses and solo performances, respectively.
Solo performers Shepherd and Sonin explain their pieces.
Kimberly Shepherd: “My piece is concerned with the sense of smell, it relationship to memory, and the significant—but often unconsidered—impact the loss of this sense can have on an individual. The main character is a young woman who has lost her sense of smell. Her journey with smell and its loss slowly unravels through a series of memories. The actual dialogue is a combination of my own writing and an adaptation of Molly Birnbaum’s autobiography ‘Season to Taste.’”
Tara Sonin: “My [self-written] piece is untitled as of yet, but it tells the story of two women from the Bible: Lilith and Leah. Lilith embodies the lover figure, and Leah, the mother figure, but throughout the piece they both begin to realize the flaws in the roles they’ve chosen to inhabit—and to a certain degree, that have been chosen for them. They seek to reconcile the women they are with the women they want to become, ultimately colliding together to form one, whole, cohesive being.”
Emma Goidel: “‘A Knee That Can Bend’ tells the multi-lingual story of an American sociology student, Kate, who travels to Senegal to study female homosexuality. Kate’s research begins as an exciting strategy to save the world and the gays while paving her way towards grad school, but she finds Senegalese lesbians far more interested in sex than research and begins to trade one for the other with turbulent consequences. I wrote ‘A Knee That Can Bend’ after my semester abroad in Senegal. It’s a play looking at what it means to search for people like you in a country that doesn’t believe you exist—largely stemming from my experiences as a queer female-bodied American in a Muslim, West African country researching underground lesbian culture in Dakar.”
Emily Nagel: “The play is essentially about homecoming. It started back in sophomore year when I wrote a really dinky little scene about a William Carlos Williams poem I was reading in Modern Poetry II. The poem is ‘Paterson,’ and it is meant to be the epic of the city of Paterson, N.J. This play follows Laura Rivera, who grew up in Paterson (one of the worst cities in the nation for education) and went on to Harvard and Princeton, as she figures out how to return home.”
Jacob Rice: “It’s about the choices on the road to understanding who we are and what we want in a terrifying world. At its most basic, it’s the story of three twenty-somethings living in New York and trying to figure out what they want to be when they grow up. The idea behind this play came about when I was a sophomore and was watching my friends who had graduated struggling to figure out what to do with their lives. I started thinking about this issue of growing up, which has become so discussed in the news, and began to get frustrated because it felt like there weren’t a lot of young voices in that discussion, and it was dominated with complaints about ‘kids these days’… As I was finishing a first draft, the whole Occupy Wall Street movement exploded onto the scene, and suddenly, a lot more voices were being heard. On the one hand, it was kind of annoying because I had to rewrite parts. There was no way I could talk about young people today and not include the movement. At the same time, it felt sort of like a vindication, like other people were looking around and thinking about these issues. This is not a political play—I’m not sure what it’s message would even be if it was—but it’s definitely struggling with some of the same issues as Occupy. How do you make a life in a harsh world? Who do you blame? Is it better to by into a system you don’t like to get the life you want or hold out for your ideals? I don’t think it answers any of these questions, but hopefully it’ll get people thinking about them.”
All plays are free of charge. For tickets and reservations, go to tic.columbia.edu.
Update, 4/11/12: The information in this article has been updated to include the thesis of Amy Larrowe.