Theatrical theses are in the spotlight

Taking on the task of creating an entire theatrical production in a matter of mere weeks can be daunting to many. Still, our thesising students take on these types of intimidating projects with each passing year. Consequently, this semester has seen not one, but two student-generated plays on campus.

Both Home And Not

Cooley’s Both Home And Not: An Exploration of Belonging was created after several interviews with immigrants and travellers from around the world, all who had found “home” in the city of Buenos Aires. There were about 18 conducted interviews in total with only four of them actually being done in English.

“I wanted to explore what ‘home’ meant to people who had experiences very different from mine,” Cooley said, after analyzing the idea that, “there are people, including myself, who come to New College and find home.” This was the original sparking thought for the thesis.

With the fervent desire of traveling to foreign lands for his vision and feeling most comfortable with the language of Spanish (for said foreign travel), Cooley believed that for his attempt in making an original full-on production, Argentina would be the perfect place. Being known as a bustling and culturally diverse part of the world with its history in openness to immigrants, Buenos Aires is the perfect city to explore the meaning of “home.”

“Buenos Aires, like every city, is unique,” Cooley said. “The ethos of the city and its public persona is of being a city of immigrants.”  

Verbatim theater is carried out by a lengthy preparation period in which, after having interviewed several people, the interviews must then be transformed into a sort of “collage style”. Essentially, the script is taken word for word (verbatim) from real-life encounters with fascinating people. Nevertheless, it is difficult to recreate these characters with limited casting options. Cooley wrote the script after having a finalized cast listing in order to ensure the best replication of these strangers based off the actors involved in the Florida based play.

The show was performed in the Black Box Theater (BBT) within the first couple weeks of the Spring semester. It is currently the only bilingual play—being 70 percent in English and 30 percent in Spanish—to ever happen at New College and it also encompasses the largest cast with the most cues and technical operations incorporated into a piece. These technological possibilities were made possible by the recent Technical Director of the Black Box Theater Monica Cross who assisted in many ways with both Cooley’s and Schulman’s productions.

“I was blown away with the equipment we had access to,” Cooley said, noting the myriad of options for lights and the quality of the speakers at hand. “The Black Box [Theater] was much more than I had expected.”

Cooley is now a semi-finalist for the Fulbright Scholarship Program by applying for the opportunity to teach English in Argentina, specifically mechanics of the language and teaching methods for adults hoping to teach English in the South American country themselves.

“I’m sure that I will be very different in five years, but I don’t think that my affinity for conversation, human connection and storytelling is ever going away,” Cooley said.


The Remaining Hours

Logan Schulman created the four-part installment series titled The Remaining Hours for his thesis project with an AOC in Theater with a slash in Religion. Being a theatrical pursuit in nature, Schulman added a main focus on the idea of “faith” with a specific concentration on the Biblical passage of Genesis 22, the story of faith and sacrifice between Abraham and his son Isaac. These religious analyses became a fundamental aspect of the series.

At the Headlong Performance Institute in Philadelphia, Schulman found himself learning and training in the art of iterative creation by way of workshops prior to the on-campus work for the pieces. This is a methodology of replicating something multiple times, like a performance in Schulman’s case, then based off the reactions of others and critiques, what was done is refined over and over for improvement.

Drawn from the practice of Rabbinic Midrash that creates a dialogue centered on the issue of how to relate Biblical passages to us as an entire humanity now. Since the Bible is filled with complex metaphors and is written in an almost poetic design, it can be rather difficult to decipher it and give it meaning for us in today’s day and age.

“I wanted to figure out how can performance do this work of creating a dialogue about faith and how it stands today,” Schulman said. “And I realized that I could not do that in a single play.”

So he made four.

The infamous 12-hour production was the third installment of the series, which was performed at the multi-purpose Mildred Sainer Fine Arts Complex. Essentially it was a one-hour piece, but done 12 times consequently. When he needed a break, which was always only once in the entire long haul, he would say to the audience, “I’m so sorry, it’s been a really long day,” then depart backstage for a five minute recharge.

The first piece was dedicated on analyzing the individual’s faith relationship with society at large, the second was looking at the individual’s faith with technology (namely social media), the third – which is the infamous 12-hour endeavor – was on faith of the self and lastly the fourth installation was about the relationship with the divine. The observations of these relationships, as explained by Schulman, moved from macro (society) to the micro (the self) and then back to an even greater macro of the divine.

While installations one, two and four were done in the BBT and was evenly distributed in terms of creative prowess and control over the pieces, Schulman had total autonomy with the third in terms of content and performance. Assistant Director for the third installation was second-year Eugenia Titterington since Schulman could not direct the piece in which he was the only single member of the performance.

It can be considered to be a tragic piece that holds great levity for its audiences. The show references Schulman’s dad consistently throughout, such as giving a eulogy to his father (who isn’t actually dead), voice clips of the father leaving the family when Schulman was younger and a lot of monologue about their complex relationship. However, religious themes also played a role in the performance having a powerful impact on some in the audience.

“I got a lot of really good feedback from Jewish students as well as non-Jewish students that were very affected by the content of the piece,” Schulman said.


Sponsor’s Take

“I really like the way that it [thesis plays] lets students work with one another. Often working on a thesis is a kind of unnecessarily isolating process,” Professor of English Nova Myhill said. “Working on a production, however you’re doing it, is necessarily really collaborative.”

Myhill, who also works closely and frequently with the theater program, was a mutual sponsor for both theses. As she has much experience with the nature of theses plays, her input was valuable in the creation of Both Home And Not and The Remaining Hours.

“She [Myhill] definitely has high expectations of her students, which pushes you to work hard,” Schulman said.

For students considering pursuing a production based thesis in their near future there’s a few helpful tips to emphasize. Here is some wisdom passed down from Myhill herself:

The thing that makes it possible is having done practical theater work beforehand.

Putting on a production and a thesis that’s written around it has a significant intellectual as well as a significant artistic component to it.

The play itself is functionally one chapter of a three-part thesis. The other two-thirds of it is encompassed in a 30-45 page written thesis (as opposed to the usual 40-60 page stand alone thesis found in other AOCs).

Keep in mind for a play, that it will always be slashed – meaning it will always need to be meeting the requirements of other AOCs

It is not easier to do, so start early.


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