First-Year Show Masters Intense Content

By Sabine Poux, Contributing Writer

Smashing watermelons into smithereens, an interview with Bob Dylan, a monologue from a fallen angel; the cast of the Middlebury first-year show Savage + Love took these difficult and outlandish acts on with enthusiasm and ease. These actors, who all took the Middlebury stage for the first time, graced the Hepburn Zoo from Oct. 20-22, performing a series of Sam Shepard one-act plays that were anything but conventional.

Most of the one-acts were written early in Shepard’s career and were experimental in nature, but the actors did not back away from the challenge, and their proficiency in his work was evident in their performances.

First-year director and alumna, Rebecca Martin ’04.5, joined the fourteen first-years in putting on Savage+Love. This was her first time back on the College campus since she graduated, and she was thrilled to share the first-year experience with the cast. Martin had performed Shepard as an actress and wanted her actors to challenge themselves with his work as a part of their first Middlebury theater experience.

“I really respond to the visceral quality in his writing,” Martin said. “I respond to the imagination, the multi-sensorial images and things that he makes his actors do, and I love that. That’s why I gravitated towards this material; I want people to have a raw experience of theater.”

One of Martin’s goals for the actors in the show was to form long-lasting bonds with each other. These bonds, Martin said, are the relationships that can carry a cast through grueling rehearsals and late nights. Martin also hoped that exposing the cast to Shepard’s earlier pieces would push the actors and teach them what it is like to do theater at a high level.

The show’s material was physically and emotionally demanding, which made the cast’s mastery of it all the more impressive. Each act varied greatly in subject matter and theme, calling upon new challenges and roles for the cast to assume with each time the stage was lit up. The first act, “Short Life of Trouble,” chronicled an actual interview between Shepard and Bob Dylan. Another, “Icarus’s Mother,” depicted an unusual scene at a Fourth of July picnic, complete with fireworks, a plane crash and an equivocal and suspenseful ending.

“The War in Heaven (Angel’s Monologue)” explored the condition of a fallen angel and the woman keeping him prisoner for herself. One of the final acts, “Just Space,” was a phone conversation between a daughter and her mother as the daughter explains the predicament of her recent estrangement from her husband. Many scenes were accompanied by a live keyboard, others with acoustic and electric guitars. Each act was unique and unpredictable, and the actors explored each new character with both emotional and intellectual depth.

One such actor, Sean Meagher ’20, made his Middlebury theater debut in the one act “Icarus’s Mother.”

“It took us a long time to understand the play that we were doing,” he said. “It’s very experimental, very profound in some ways, but so fun to do.”

He added that he grew very close with the other actors in his cast as they bonded over the difficulties and charms of Shepard’s work.

Another cast member, Steph Miller ’20, gave some insight on the rehearsal process, which started soon after classes began.

“I think it’s really nice that they have it start so soon so that freshmen can get involved so early,” Miller said.

First-year student Laurel Rand-Lewis ’20 agreed, and added that she liked performing one acts as opposed to a full-length play.

“Doing one acts gives you much more freedom to have more people,” she said. “It’s also much more coherent to do in such a short period of time.”

Alexander Herdman ’17 stage managed the show with help from Assistant Stage Manager Coralie Tyler ’20. Herdman was also the set designer and properties manager of the performance, and acted in his own first year show three years ago.

“I’m still friends with the cast!” he added, a testament to the teambuilding and sense of community with which the first year show provides newcomers. He has taken part in faculty shows ever since.

As a new-coming director at the College, Martin also emphasized the camaraderie of the first-year cast.

“We don’t know what to expect and we don’t know what to do,” said Martin. “We don’t know exactly what it’s going to be but we kind of created it together.”

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