Jacobean, contemporary and commemorative: Three senior thesis productions for Theater, Dance & Media arise from personal passion and social commentary.
By Samanatha Neville '19
At first glance, three Theater, Dance and Media productions – ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore, Shirley, and Columbinus – may seem unrelated. One is an adapted Jacobean-era play, the next a musical about child star Shirley Temple and the third about the Columbine High School massacre. But they were all born out of an intensely personal connection with the text and subject matter.
Mantz discovered ’Tis Pity two summers ago. I was struck by how passionate she is about the text.
“I had such a visceral, personal, emotional reaction to the text that I think inherently it became my own in that I think I saw myself in the play, and I saw my experience depicted in the play,” Mantz said.
’Tis Pity is a tragedy written by John Ford in the 1600s about a brother and sister who fall in love. Disaster ensues.
Mantz identifies as nongender binary. For Mantz, the play touches on themes that are relevant, such as issues faced by “female-identified, female-bodied, femme-expressing, queer/trans individuals.” One of the male characters, Giovanni, will be played by a female-identified student.
“I know there are so many people on this campus – women, trans people, queer people – who have experienced deep, deep tragedy of their own during their time here, and even before here, and I hope to bring their stories to an audience and let them see themselves depicted and respected and joyfully and gently held in the hands of these actors so that they can feel seen and heard,” Mantz said.
Mantz isn’t staging the play in the typical proscenium style. Rather, the audience will be surrounding the actors and will be implicated in the plot as part of society.
"I caught myself on multiple occasions just openly crying on New Jersey Transit,” Speedy said.
Speedy experienced cognitive dissonance when reading the script. That is, he had a hard time understanding how he could enjoy something and appreciate how well-written it was when the subject matter was so sad. This is something he took into the account in the process of producing the show. At callbacks, he was straightforward with actors.
“This show deals with difficult content,” Speedy told them. “But content is not going to dictate this process. What’s most important to me is not my grade, is not subjectively how good the show is. What matters to me is that this is a good process and a positive experience for all of us.” And he knew he’d have to stick to his word for it to work.
While the process was more lighthearted, Speedy took the content of the play very solemnly. He and the cast had many discussions about how the material was affecting them.
“It was nice when I had those moments,” Speedy said of the times when reading Columbinus had brought him to tears, “and I continue to have those moments because I want to make sure I never got numb to it.”
Speedy’s way of taking care of himself during the process was spending no more than two hours a day doing research for the play, jumping around to music with the cast after big rehearsals or watching a funny TV show after he got home from rehearsal.
The importance of optimism in a world where Columbine can happen cannot be underestimated, and I think Julia Belanoff, who wrote and is starring in Shirley, might say the same.
Belanoff and I met in the basement of William James. She smiled the whole time she talked. I learned a lot about Shirley Temple from her – for instance that she had a political career as an adult, and was an ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia.
“I definitely see her as a role model for someone trying to be a leader as a woman in a variety of fields,” Belanoff said.
Belanoff also had a personal connection to Temple. They used to be neighbors.
“I trick-or-treated at her house when I was a little girl,” Belanoff said. “So I met her and I grew up watching her movies, and I was always really inspired by her spirit and the happiness she brought to so many people in her lifetime.”
Belanoff hopes to bring some of Temple’s lesser known but still beautiful songs to her audiences. She also hopes to bring positivity to their lives.
“We’re living in a time that is very uncertain, and I think it’s really important to remember that there’s always a reason to be happy and that even in the darkest moments there are opportunities to find positivity,” Belanoff said.
Three unrelated shows? Maybe. And maybe not.