April 20, 2011
Students showcase new play developed during workshop experience with award-winning playwright
MARYVILLE, Mo. - An intense three-week workshop during which theater students at Northwest Missouri State University wrote and developed a play with guest artist Sean Christopher Lewis culminates this weekend with the student-produced play "See, Hear, Speak."
Performances are 7:30 p.m. April 20-23 with a 2 p.m. performance Saturday, April 23. All performances are in the Studio Theater at the Ron Houston Center for the Performing Arts.
Tickets are $8 and can be purchased online at www.theatrenorthwest.org or at the door beginning one hour prior to the performance.
The play depicts the dystopian town Senifice where its citizens are forced to give up their ability to see, hear or speak when they turn 20 years old. While the requirement was meant to unite the town, it turns into a symbol of corruption and control. Eventually, a new crop of youth must decide whether to comply.
"In two weeks they were able to put together an hour-long piece that you can sit and watch, and it has some funny moments and has some really nice romance."
Seventeen students are involved in the production, which they developed from scratch. Keaton Schmidt, a theatre performance major from Maryville, portrays Elijah Flynn, a blind teacher, in the play.
"Two weeks ago we didn't even have a play so it's just been a whirlwind of creating this play and putting individual scenes that we wrote together to make a story," Schmidt said. "It's been a wonderful experience and I'm so glad I got the opportunity to do it."
On an invitation from Amanda Petefish-Schrag, assistant professor in the Department of Communication, Theatre and Languages, Lewis arrived at Northwest with the goal of helping the students develop a piece that was ensemble-driven. He directed the students to write a script, design the play, act in it and produce it, all within a timeframe of 15 rehearsals.
"The students were amazing," Lewis said. "They jumped in because it's definitely the kind of project that, if there's any kind of resistance, could fall apart really quickly. I knew I wanted it to be process-oriented. I wanted them to have the most responsibility that they could have."
As the workshop experience began, Lewis instructed the students to compose myths, or "recipes," that had specific theatrical "ingredients" - such as a dance, song or romance.
"One of the scenes they came up with that's in the play was out of that," Lewis said. "It's a really great scene between one character who can talk and the other character can't. But then they have this very charming and silly rap battle with each other where one is singing the rap song and the other is actually signing lyrics. It's actually a pretty beautiful moment, and it got them thinking outside the box."
As the writing process continued, the students selected some of the more appealing scenes. They drew relationships between each of the characters that created and manipulated the scenes to compose the larger play being presented this weekend.
"They started to create this entire town of people and then it just kept growing," Lewis said. "We started from the really small process of just making a scene, to how does that scene develop characters, how do those characters develop relationships and how do those relationships turn into an entire world. That's when we started getting the overall storyline."
Schmidt praised Lewis for his playwriting knowledge and said he was thrilled to have Lewis as a mentor.
"I've just been trying to be a sponge every time I'm around him and soak up all that enthusiasm and knowledge," Schmidt said.
Lewis received the inaugural Rosa Parks Award for Social Justice in Playwriting from the Kennedy Center, and he is a former NNPN Emerging Playwright-in-Residence at Interact Theatre in Philadelphia. He has toured nationally with his critically lauded solo shows "I Will Make You Orphans," "The Gone Chair," and most recently, "Killadelphia," which he performed at Northwest April 12.
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Northwest Missouri State University
215 Administration Building | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468