Weekday evenings and nights, the theatre suite in Esch Hall is full of activity, from reading lines to sewing costumes. Rehearsals for three of the four plays in the Student Engagement Series began the third week of classes and will continue through early October.

The Student Engagement Series was introduced this year as a push toward a more theatrical capstone for senior theatre majors, according to senior theatre major Mary Schreier. While the four seniors this year are all directing and producing one-act plays, the series is designed to be able to fit the tracks of whomever is involved, be it performance/directing, design/ production, education or music/theatre, Schreier said.

Photo by Ki Tally.
Senior theatre major and director Mary Schreier advises senior technical theatre major Emily Hart on a scene in preparation for their performance of “The Bear.” Schreier said this play has been one of the best casted performances she has been able to direct in her career.

“A professor actually was the person who gave me the most interesting [explanation],” Schreier said. “He said about it, ‘You guys need something to showcase what it is that you’ve learned over your four years. Whether you’ve learned it correctly or whether you’ve learned it well or whether you’ve retained it…This is the ability to show what you’ve learned in a capacity that is nurturing to the educational process.’”

While all four seniors are directing, the expectations are different based on their track. Senior theatre education majors Zech Saenz and Bailey Williams said they are responsible for directing and designing every element of their play while Schreier and senior theatre major Kelly Casey said they are directing and working with a team on design.

“We’re all really excited because, I think, especially for the theatre education majors, it gives us a chance to kind of have a dress rehearsal before we start doing this for real with students,” Williams said. “Especially, for me, I’m excited because during this student engagement series we have to do literally everything…And I know we have a lot of support here and students will help and stuff but I definitely think it’s what we need before we start teaching for real.”

Saenz’s production of Deborah Pryor’s “The Love Talker” is the first in the series. According to Saenz, “The Love Talker” follows two poor sisters that live on the land surrounding their secluded home in the wilderness. The younger sister stumbles upon a cottage while venturing out into the woods. In it she discovers a magical well and drawings and ends up summoning a demon.

The play is nowhere near what Saenz was planning on originally producing, he said. Initially, he said he was looking into children’s theatre scripts and was going to market the play toward children and elementary schools in the Indianapolis Public Schools system. In the end, however, he took a different route.

“I was like, ‘This is my senior year in college,” Saenz said. “‘If I’m going to do children’s theatre, I could easily do children’s theatre in high school. That’s totally acceptable.’ I don’t know if I can do darker, heavier content in a high school, because it always depends on administration. So that pivotal point was when I decided, ‘Okay, maybe I’ll do darker scripts, maybe I’ll do something a little risqué.’”

Schreier chose to direct Anton Chekov’s “The Bear,” originally published as a short story entitled “The Boor.” According to Schreier, the play centers on the widowed Popova, who pledges to be faithful to her husband even though he has died. Out of the blue, a man shows up claiming that her late husband owed him money and demanding she pay. When she says that she does not have the money, an argument about the debt and the ensues, ending with Popova challenging him to a duel. Schreier said that she chose the play because Chekov is her favorite playwright and also because of Popova.

“I read the short story and I fell in love with her [Popova],” Schreier said. “I fell in love with her spunk and her tenacity even in a time when—because this was written in 1888—women did not do this sort of thing and did not stick up for themselves . . .She’s not afraid of being a woman, and I think it’s interesting that she seems to want to stay traditional in a sense, but then all of a sudden he pushes her over
the edge to become this [woman who is] passionate about women.”

Seeing the story unfold and Popova’s character brought to life are two elements that Schreier said she is most looking forward to. According to Schreier, “The Bear” is senior technical theatre major Emily Hart’s first time on stage as a performer and she is playing the lead.

“I had kind of been teasing her about coming out and auditioning for it and she didn’t really give me an answer. But then all of a sudden she came into auditions and she auditioned with the monologue that I had chosen for them to read…” Schreier said. “And in that moment, it was one of those things where you just hear it and all of a sudden you see the story happening before you. So I think the thing I’m most excited about is to see her bring this character that I’ve already felt and I’ve already seen, bring her to life for everybody else…”

Photo by Ki Tally.
“The Love Talker” director, senior theatre education major Zech Saenz, observes his cast performing a scene to determine how else he can guide them through the play. Saenz said that he is most looking forward to sharing the play with audiences and seeing it come together.

Casey’s play is the last performance in the series for the first semester. She is producing absurdist playwright Edward Albee’s “The Zoo Story,” which centers around two men, Peter and Jerry. Casey said that the play opens with Peter sitting on a bench, reading, when he is approached by the eccentric Jerry. Over the course of their conversation, the audience learns more about both men and watches their relationship form.

Casey said she chose the play because she thought it was both a humorous and entertaining show that allowed the audience to see the characters develop. Because she had directed a play of Albee’s before, Casey said she was familiar with his style.

“I think absurdist [work] usually has a bunch of twists or makes people in the audience at least think ‘What are we doing? What’s happening?’” Casey said. “And then you kind of think, ‘Oh wait, there are moments in real life that happen like this.’ But you don’t really understand it, and it kind of makes you question almost everything. So I think, especially with the ending, it makes you question a lot about what’s happening and what other people are thinking and it’s just really different.”

At the beginning of February 2019, Williams’ cast will perform her production of Georg Buchner’s “Woyzeck.” The play, written in 1836, follows the soldier Woyzeck, who has just returned from war. He is suffering from a mental illness, leading him to be experimented on by a doctor. At the same time, he discovers his girlfriend, with whom he has a child, is having an affair, further impacting his mental health.

“He’s [Woyzeck] kind of just a spectacle to everyone in his life,” Williams said. “And it’s [the play] so sad and so revolutionary because it was written so long ago and a lot of this stuff wasn’t really talked about or wasn’t really a thing…basically it’s just how life was for a common man and he’s also suffering from mental illness.”

Because the play is unfinished, there are multiple endings to choose from, according to Williams. In addition to the selecting the ending, she said that the play can be set in any time period and that she has chosen to modernize it as well as change tone of the characters and the doctor to a police officer.

“I think with a lot of stuff that’s happening in the world right now, I feel that making this show modern I can reach a lot of different people,” Williams said. “ . . . just the fact that you can literally set this in any time and it portrays something different. . . making it modern, I feel like, depending on who auditions and who I cast…I will be able to shine light on some of the issues in our world today. And I think that’s very important for things I want to do in theatre because that’s a chance to shine light on issues and everything.”

All of the plays in the Student Engagement Series will be performed in the Studio Theatre in the basement of Esch Hall. Saenz’s production of “The Love Talker” will be performed on Friday, Sept. 28 at 6 p.m. and Saturday, Sept. 29 at 2 p.m. “The Bear,” directed by Schreier, opens on Friday, Oct. 5 with a second show on Saturday, Oct. 6, both at 8 p.m. Casey’s production of “The Zoo Story” is showing right before fall break, on Wednesday, Oct. 10 and Thursday, Oct. 11, also at 8 p.m. both nights. Auditions for Williams’ production of “Woyzeck” will be held in December with the performances scheduled for Friday, Feb. 8 and Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019.