Student Directed Plays

By, Teresa Lawlor

“You’re not alone,” said Penny M. ’18 as Woman from Hell. “You’ve lots of friends… men who turned into sticks.”

So ended The Man Who Turned Into a Stick by Kobo Abe, the first play of Winsor’s student-directed production, which was performed February 15th in the LOC Black Box theater. The second play featured was The Sandbox by Edward Albee.

Both plays are absurdist and surrealist; absurdism is defined as the belief or school of thought that the universe is meaningless and irrational. Therefore situations or stories that are seemingly absurd or contradict our understanding of the world are just as valid as those that fit neatly into society today.

The Man Who Turned Into a Stick tells the tale of exactly that: a man (Lena V. ’18) who, upon his death, becomes an ordinary stick that needs to be registered by two workers from Hell (Abby G. ’19 and Mack — Julia B. ’21 also makes an appearance as their coworker, Voice from Hell) but initially falls into the hands of two glue-sniffing hippies (Izzy I. ’18 and Thomasina O. ’21).

The Sandbox, on the other hand, depicts a family, consisting of domineering Mommy (Siri K. ’19), whining Daddy (Eva D. ’18), and resigned Grandma (Megan K. ’18). Lena also made a second appearance as the Young Man doing calisthenics on the beach, and Audrey W. ’20 provided accompaniment as the Musician.

Jane W. ’18 and Connie Z. ’18 co-directed the plays. “Connie and I have always been huge surrealism/absurdism fans, said Jane, “and we felt like it would be fun to expose a larger audience to the stuff we are passionate about!” Both the directors and the cast enjoyed collaborating on this student-directed production; Lena reflected, “There was a little more give and take [between the directors and actors]… It was nice to take a little more charge as the actor. I feel that I made a lot of choices that were very much my own.”

Both of the scripts selected for this year could have been quite confusing for audience members; however, the audience was able to find both humor and meaning in the unfamiliar worlds created in each play, as well as complex commentaries on how people live their lives and interact with others. “There were a lot of philosophical questions inspired by the show: what happens after death, if we can ever really understand each other… [Audience members] were talking about it, which was really cool,” noted Abby.

The production was well-received by the collection of students, faculty, and families. “Not only was I shook — in a good way! — by the complexity of both plays’ plot lines and characters, but I was also shook by the unbelievable talent of the actors and directors,” said Julie W. ’19. “The fact that I walked away with even a small sense of the messages behind these complicated plays is a testament to the capabilities of the directors, the cast, and the production crew.” Annie K. ’19 agreed. “The plays really left me thinking,” she said. “They transcended the funny plot ideas, such as people becoming sticks, and turned into something much darker, yet fascinating.”

The directors used the minimalist black box theater well, and props and set pieces were well-chosen and efficient. The intimate setting allowed for moments of striking visual beauty, particularly in the form of Lena’s calisthenics and final moments as the Young Man in The Sandbox. The plays both culminated in thought-provoking and complicated messages about life and family. “The plays don’t necessarily have a distinct ‘meaning’ behind them… absurdism is a useful tool in dealing with the ridiculousness and pain of existing as a human,” said Jane. “We wanted our audience to experience those emotions and think about why they were feeling the way they did.”

“I think that the plays struck the right balance between absurdity and reality,” said Penny. “Even though the situations depicted in The Sandbox and The Man Who Turned Into a Stick are far from our everyday experiences, they were able to shine a light on certain truths that are very present in our own lives.”

The student-directed play is an annual tradition at Winsor; every year during the winter, one or two students (Classes VI-VIII) direct a short performance. They are responsible for casting the show, planning rehearsals, obtaining props and costumes, supporting the actors, and much more. The play can also be entered in a theater festival in the Greater Boston area if so desired; previous productions of “The Other Room” by Ariadne Blayde and “it’s not you, it’s me” by Don Zolidis by performed non-competitively. Applications for next winter will be due this spring.