Pulling back the curtain

By Justine Goode and Claire Hong

Walking through the bottom floor of Chalmers on April 15, the second day of the annual Playwrights’ Festival, a steady buzz of excitement slowly became audible, as the actors and playwrights of the festival’s Series B began to assemble in their green room. It was 6:10 p.m., and already there was a sizable group of students relaxing in the lounge, sitting amidst purses and Baja Fresh wrappers littered across the tabletops. The official call time was 6 p.m., but as one actor explained, “They tell people to come at six because they know people will actually come later.”

One of the actors to arrive first was Nadia Dubovitsky ’12, who quickly initialed a sign-in sheet and looked around the lounge. Groups of actors were crowded around tables, some animated, some clearly bored. Over the hum of conversation one could hear a familiar but indistinguishable melody being played on the piano.

“Someone is always playing the piano before theater shows,” Dubovitsky, who played Esther, a 23-year-old Russian immigrant in “Dropped Stitches,” said. The play was about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911.

“She’s older and wiser than the other girls, more cynical about their prospects and future,” Dubovitsky said. “I like that even though she can be cynical and harsh, she can also be caring.”

That night on April 15 was the first time the play would be performed in front of an audience and Dani Wieder ’12, the playwright, was optimistic, if a little anxious.

“It’s out of my hands now, but I have wonderful actors who I’ve entrusted with my play,” she said

The lounge was filled with veterans and newcomers.

“I haven’t acted since sixth grade, but I decided to try it, and now I’m in two [plays],” Ryan Lash ’12 said. One of the plays she was cast in was “Oh No!”, which spoofs murder mysteries and also features Alex Velaise ’11.

“I play Philip, a 20-year-old posh British man who is a possible heir to a huge fortune, and who dies a dramatic death with his fiancé,” Velaise explained, munching on tortilla chips from one of the ubiquitous Baja Fresh bags. But the chips did nothing to calm his nerves about opening night.

“I haven’t even processed it. I’m not worried though, because there are so many plays with so many actors that you can’t really screw it up.”

“Yeah, I couldn’t be less nervous,” interjected Noor Fateh ’11 confidently as he made his way to the costume rack.

By 6:40 p.m., more actors in costume had begun to trickle into the lounge, and the hangers on the costume rack were bare. Dubovitsky emerged from the makeshift dressing room in a starched white shirt, a long high-waisted skirt and a small blue apron, holding onto a pile of clothes. Haley Lucitt ’11 jingled loudly as she pulled on a pair of elf shoes that matched the rest of her holiday ensemble.

Across the room, Beanie Feldstein ’11 asked, “Nick Healy ’13, is there a wig behind you?” and proceeded to braid Hannah Zipperman’s ’12 hair so Zipperman could wear the curly gray wig. The sound of hairspray swished through the air, barely audible over the din, and a thin mist quickly rose and disappeared, securing Zipperman’s hair in place. At a neighboring table, Halle Levitt ’12 also expertly worked Rebecca Hutman’s ’12 hair into two perfect French braids.

At 6:50 p.m., performing arts teacher Christopher Moore stopped in to make an announcement.

“Ten minutes! Ten minutes to show time,” he boomed, and a group began to congregate around the door of the lounge. The sounds of the audience finding their seats in Rugby poured into the lounge through a speaker system, heightening the anticipation, and the actors mingled while waiting to take their places. Velaise stroked Autumn Chiklis’s ’12 baby bump — “My sixth child,” she joked — while Lucas Foster ’13 stood by a table alone, looking over his script one last time and quickly reciting his lines to himself under his breath. Dubovitsky showed off her new necklace, a tiny silver sewing machine on a chain. It was an opening night gift from Wieder. The excitement and energy was palpable as the last few minutes ticked by.

7 p.m.

“Places,” yelled Moore.

Actors scrambled into place, rearranging their costumes one last time, excited yet nervous for the festival to start. The noise in the lounge kept increasing and a frantic voice called out, “Does anyone have a hair brush?” The group of students in the first play made their way to Rugby Theatre’s backstage area.

Students performing in later plays leaned back in their chairs and relaxed, knowing they still had time to get into their costumes or put on make-up. Brooke Levin ’12 casually walked into the lounge with tousled hair and dirt smudged all over her face, asked, “How do I look?” and went on to help her co-star, Stephen Carr ’12, apply brown smears over his face to produce the same dirty appearance.

At 7:15 p.m., the show began. By the end of the evening, the audience had looked at the life and loves of a frustrated Shakespearean actor moonlighting as a department store Santa in “…Or Not to Be,” watched an unlikely and hysterical bond form between grandmother and grandson in “Roommates,” and heard the tragic and moving stories of women who worked and perished in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in “Dropped Stitches.” As people mingled during intermission, praise for the festival could be heard all around the quad. Wieder smiled as both parents and students complimented her on the success of her play.

“It was so mature,” people said. “I started crying.” “I’m just in awe of you right now.”

“Thank you,” she repeated over and over, glowing. “It means so much to me.”

After intermission, the audience was entertained by the Scene Monkeys’ improvisational skills (audience volunteer Austin Lewis ’11 brought down the house with his deadpan responses to the Monkeys), saw a volatile relationship between two grave robbers deteriorate dramatically in “Buried Alive,” and watched a classic “whodunit” murder mystery unfold in the last play, “Oh No!”

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