February 29, 2012

From college to childhood: a play devised

For many students, college is where they toe the line between childhood and adulthood. This term, six students celebrated that ambiguity.
“Childhood: A Devised Show” will make its Knox debut this weekend. The show is made up of a series of short scenes that explore different facets of childhood, from first dates to imaginary tea parties.
The first seeds for the play were sown last year. Sophomores Alyssa Gill and Mya Kahler were discussing how odd it was they were supposed to say goodbye to childhood during college, but, as Gill put it, “we didn’t.”
Since both were theater people, Gill and Kahler decided to put a cast together and explore the concept of childhood as a devised play. They advertised for actors to help them create the piece and found senior Mark Farrell, sophomore Hannah Tochtrop and freshman Emily Passarelli.
The show is a piece of devised theater, which means that the group collaborated to create a suite of scenes based around a central theme or idea — in this case, childhood.
Collaborations are especially important in a devised show. Unlike a normal show where the writer and director hold most of the power, in a devised play, the actors all work as writers, directors and performers. As the co-director, Gill said it could be stressful to work on a show with no set pattern, but she feels the gains outweigh the losses. The cast agreed.
“It’s good to have so many voices on the same level,” senior cast member Isaac Miller said. Everyone in the cast contributed to the play, which meant the play had more perspectives than one writer could give.
Acting in a play where you know the writers, Miller said, is different from performing a play from a more distant author, since, “when you’re performing the words someone in your cast wrote … it’s easier to relate to them.”
The group delved into their own childhood psyches by looking at their own childhood artifacts. Looking at the artifacts (diary entries, old art, home movies, etc.) was a fascinating experience for the actors, especially for those who had not seen some of the relics for years.
Over winter break, the group also wrote about the stages of development and did various exercises to bring out their inner child.
These exercises included a clowning workshop by senior Ben Lee, a free paint session and a sleepover, where the group told ghost stories.
Gill led a workshop that she described as “weird,” where she made the performers stand in the dark while making them listen to frightening noises to help create a feeling of childlike fear.
Some parts of scenes are autobiographical. Gill said she even lifted lines from her diaries. But much of the play is built off the emotions of childhood, not specific facts.
This was particularly true for Farrell’s scene about Christianity, sexuality and belief. Although Farrell did not base the scenes off of anything from his youth, he did root it in the very real aimlessness that most teenagers feel.
“Teens lack direction, so they commit themselves more fully to …dogma,” Farrell said.
When Kahler and Gill went into the play, they thought they were exploring the idea of growing up. Although some of that comes out in the play, it is also a celebration of the highs and lows of childhood. For Kahler, working on the show helped answer the question that started the show — what it means to be an adult.
“It’s easier for me to accept that you never grow up,” Kahler said.

Paige Anderson
Paige Anderson is a junior double majoring in computer science and creative writing. This is her second year as co-Mosaic editor. Outside of TKS, Paige has written for Knox’s Office of Communications and for her high school newspaper; her in-depth work won a third-place medal in the Redwood Empire Excellence in Journalism Awards competition. Paige will intern at Amazon during the summer of 2013.


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