Stationed in the living room of a California residence, main characters Cyn and Jimmy work together one last time to finalize their divorce in Visiting Instructor in English and Theatre Sherwood Kiraly’s play “Hug it Out.” While the couple struggles to get through the paperwork, they also struggle to console their grown daughter, who has come into town conflicted after just receiving a marriage proposal herself.
The play had been part of the Knox New Plays Festival during May 2016. This was the first performance accompanied by a full set, sound and lighting. This past week, “Hug it Out” premiered in its first full production at the First Look Play Festival at the Prairie Players Civic Theatre.
Kiraly crafted the idea for the premises of the production through inspiration from existing productions centered around the theme of family dysfunction. He cited “Death of a Salesman” as an example, but noted that he wanted to break away from the usual plot.
“A lot of American Theatre is about getting even with your family,” Kiraly said. “They’re always about dysfunctional families, and I wanted to do one play that was about a family that had actually worked, that had a happy atmosphere.”
The play is centered around a long term couple who is attempting to work together to get through the paperwork to finalize a DIY divorce. Kiraly emphasizes the functional aspect of the couple, and feels that the play differs from the usual premise of a dysfunctional family dynamic.
Kiraly noted that, after 20 years, the couple in the play decide to separate despite a seemingly civil marriage. After the split, the two are able to work together in the same symbiotic conversation to finalize their divorce. He felt that his initial premise for the main plot was one of best ideas that came forward, and the subplots soon followed.
“To me it was poignant and ironic and a great premise to think of divorce as the final team effort,” Kiraly said. “I don’t get that many good ideas. So when I get one like that, I immediately know that you have to take an idea like that and not let it go until you’ve done it justice.”
After the initial premise, Kiraly spent about eight or nine months writing the play before submitting and performing the play in the New Plays Festival. Before submitting the play to Prairie Players, Kiraly added another scene to balance the weight carried by the two leads. As it stood, he felt that the female lead carried significantly more weight than the male lead.
Kiraly considers the hybrid of Knox students and Galesburg locals to be a large contributing factor to the show’s success. He noted that director Niki Acton ’16 was not intimidated by the idea of having to direct a Knox professor and other grown adults and was thus able to get the best performances out of the cast.
“I have a tendency to drift and get quieter and quieter unless somebody gets on my case about it,” he said.”And Niki had no trouble pulling me aside and telling me what I’m doing and what I have to do better.”
Senior Emily Trevor, who was the Set Designer and Technical Director of the play, felt that the biggest obstacle of being involved in a production outside of school was trying to work around everyone’s schedules.
“The people that are involved have such different lives and schedules. At Knox it’s very much a bubble where you pretty much understand what people’s’ lives look like,” Trevor said. “When you get out of that it takes so much more planning and communication and thought going into the humans you’re hiring as holistic beings.”
Despite the wide age range, Trevor felt that the experience of working outside of Knox wasn’t too different. She mentioned that she had to take time to figure out some of the logistics, such as placement of tools and different materials used, but was able to adapt quickly.
Despite hoping to have a break from theatre after being burnt out from Fall Term, senior Tristan Yi heard about the production and decided to attend auditions that same day. He felt that after being Kiraly’s advisee, he wanted a chance to be able to work with him in a production. He noted that he had originally hoped to be cast as Ogilvie in the New Plays Festival at Knox, but was instead given a role in a different play.
Yi mentioned that “Hug It Out” was his first production outside of Knox, and feels that the atmosphere of working in a non-academic setting was much less rigorous and less stressful. He noted that he is able to see the benefit of both types of environments, and doesn’t feel that one is more effective than the other.
“It wasn’t so much a learning experience specifically. Obviously you learn from everything, but it was mostly meant as a good time putting on a good show that people will like and think about”
While the intentionality of the production was more for entertainment rather than providing a learning experience for actors and others involved, Yi was able to gain a sense of adaptability through his involvement.
“No matter how good one theatre company is, you can’t just get it from one place. It’s good to be rounded out and see how other people do it, and then you can take that into consideration and understand different environments,” Yi said.
Not only did he learn from the different atmospheres, he also saw the production as an opportunity to work with different physical spaces. He feels that actors tend to get used to the spaces they usually encounter when performing, and that experiencing new stages and spaces enables actors to be able to adapt more easily in the future. He mentioned that this production forced him to let go of a routine he hadn’t previously been aware of.
Trevor also mentioned that the experience of working outside of Knox was beneficial to her, and she hopes that students get more chances to get involved in productions outside of Knox in the future. She noted that, while the process is somewhat universal, stepping out of one’s comfort zone requires them to take on a different mindset and is conducive for development.
“You have to be a lot more creative when you step outside of that space. It’s easy to get cozy and comfortable in those parameters,” Trevor said. “So forming unexpected partnerships and going beyond can help you grow in ways further than you can predict.”