A look into Senior Studios

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Senior Katarina Morris discusses her production of "Scott and Hen" with cast members. Photo by Marquel Plavan.

As the spring semester sluggishly slinks from the uproar of Groundhog into the duties of the academic year, students begin to invest themselves in their major projects. For some students, this semester marks the last great endeavor in their respective majors. Many seniors study for comps, tend to their theses and prep for their panels that will wrap up their careers as undergraduates. Senior drama majors, in turn, develop and refine their senior studios.

This semester, four senior drama majors — Nick Moore, Hope Gniewek, Katarina Morris and Katherine Weber — will present their studios. With their casts finalized and their production teams hard at work, the beginning stages of the studios are underway.

Each of the four studios is unique in its subject matter and presents a distinct portrait of the human condition. While Morris and Moore’s shows showcase a small cast of two to three people, Gniewek’s show includes nine characters and Weber’s presents an all-female cast of four.

Moore’s show, “Audience,” involves a shockingly humorous exchange between two characters in Communist Czechoslovakia.

“My favorite aspect of the show is its humor,” Moore said. “You wouldn’t think a show set in Communist Czechoslovakia could be so funny, but the show has this really robust sense of dark humor in the way the characters approach the awful situation they’ve found themselves in.”

In going about choosing his show, Moore says that it “clicked” with him right away when he read it.

“It was during a day when I was beginning to feel the strain of reading dozens of one-acts trying to find something that connected, but ‘Audience’ immediately woke me up. Its dialogue was so funny, but the dissatisfaction and even anger that motivates the characters and makes them unable to really understand each other was so engaging. It stuck with me and just wouldn’t leave my mind, so when the time came to make a decision it felt like the clear choice. I just wanted to spend more time with the Brewmaster and Vanek.”

Similarly, Morris’ show, “Scott and Hem” covers a snippet of a longer and more turbulent narrative between iconic writers F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.

“These men are idolized as great authors with fantastical pasts, but at the end of the day their lives were messy and unrefined and pretty similar to any other person,” Morris said. “The difference is that they put their suffering into their writing, and we can appreciate that as readers even now because we still have and love those writings today. I love that I have the chance to bring this aspect of their story to life.”

“[I don’t] remember consciously searching for an ensemble show, but that was what I was gravitating towards as I was looking around for a show,” said Weber about choosing her female-centric show.

“I also wasn’t searching for an all-female show, but this show felt so fun when I read [it] for the first time,” Weber said. “Besides, we have a plethora of talented actresses in this department who deserve a chance to shine.”

“I love the contrast between the women and their inner voices,” Weber added. “Hearing them directly contradict each other within seconds always stays with me. Sometimes it makes me crack up. Sometimes it makes me stop and think about the issues these women are facing. Either way, I feel like it makes the show really fun.”

As for Gniewek, choosing an Agatha Christie one-act was like “striking gold.”

I’ve always loved murder mysteries and detective stories,” Gniewek said. “There’s something fantastic about the unknown in murder mysteries. You have a large cast of characters and you don’t know what’s important and what’s obfuscation.”

“I’m really excited about the period I’m setting it in,” Gniewek added, regarding her decision to adapt the one-act to 1952 America in the world of film noir. “That genre is all about undercurrents of sexual desire, cynicism, greed, secrecy, menace, etc. It’s kitschy enough to make you laugh and tense enough to keep you on the edge of your seat. My designers and I are having an incredible amount of fun developing this film noir world for the play. I think the audience is going to love it.”

Though all four studios are in their beginning stages for the time being, each director has a concrete goal in mind for their shows.

Gniewek has the “highest of expectations” for her show and feels a strong confidence in her team and in the Drama Department.

Morris hopes to leave her audience with the desire to learn.

“[I want them to want to know more] about these authors, about themselves, about the connections we have with others. We all fight to be noticed and make something of worth, even it means we wrestle with each other to make those goals a reality; this play is a representation of that struggle, both for great authors of the past and human beings in the present.”

“[I want to] hold up a mirror to the audience,” Weber said. “I want them to realize that the grass probably isn’t greener on the other side. I think that’s what leaves a lot of people feeling down, particularly in the age of social media — they think that everyone else is happy while they’re stuck being miserable. But, as we can see in this show, that simply isn’t true. People just tend to hide their worst side, that’s all.”

Similarly, Moore hopes that his audience will recognize themselves and their humanity within the characters, and feel as though they witnessed a “real conversation.”

“They don’t need to know anything about Czechoslovakian history or Communist labor practices to understand the show, because the show is really just about two men whose lives have become something they never wanted them to become,” Moore said. “I think we can all relate to that fear, and maybe also relate to the idea of using these crazy coping methods to deal with them, which are honestly pretty amusing when you take a step back. I feel a real connection to and affection for the Brewmaster and Vanek, I want to see them overcome their problems. I know the audience will feel the same way.”

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