Senior Thesis Explores the Psyche
Published: Friday, January 17, 2014
Updated: Friday, January 17, 2014 02:01
Brendan Quinn (COL ’14) has adapted his senior thesis production of “A Mouthful of Birds,” written by Caryl Churchill, into a performance that will be brought to life and performed as part of the Davis Center of Performing Arts’ 2013-14 “Remember Me” season.
Although it is typical for a senior presenting a thesis in theatre and performance studies to see his thesis brought to life in production form, Quinn’s thesis is unique in that it will be the only thesis performed as part this year’s Davis Center’s performance season.
“I always wanted my thesis to be a co-production with Nomadic Theatre after directing with them sophomore year,” Quinn said, referring to the troupe co-producing the show with the Theater and Performance Studies Program. Last year, Nomadic Theatre co-produced “Polk Street” with the Mask & Bauble Dramatic Society; adaptor and director T. Chase Meacham (COL ’14) is currently fine-tuning the work to submit as this year’s other senior thesis.
The play explores the volatile nature of human pathology in everyday life through the telling of seven vignettes. Loosely based on the Greek tragedy “The Bacchae” by Euripides, the production involves a visceral embodiment of a variety of psychoses, from possession to madness, through highly physical movement.
“As [the actors] delved into reading the play, a lot of it is hard to picture because so much of it is dance and movement, so we had a lot of conversation about psychological disorders and gender and there was a lot of table work that went into the show,” producer Sarah Konig (COL ’16) said.
Department of Performing Arts Chair Maya Roth, who serves as Quinn’s thesis advisor, attributed the collaboration to the strength of Quinn’s thesis proposal, which was submitted in the winter of his junior year.
“[The department] has a formal process for thesis proposal ... for high standing juniors who are majoring in theatre and performance studies, and the faculty committee who vets the thesis looks for original research and an individual voice,” Roth said. “The committee wants to have a conversation with the [other major] field of study to understand the context of the proposal and see if the student has a culminating project that fits in with the trajectory of their academic studies.”
Quinn’s inspiration for the production traces back to his freshman year at Georgetown.
“I always knew that I wanted to [major in] theatre and something, but I actually came into Georgetown as a classics major,” Quinn said. “I took a course in Greek tragedy my freshman fall that I call now one of the most important academic classes that I have taken at Georgetown because it set me up in terms of exposure to the classics as a basis of western theatre.”
Quinn’s academic studies proved vital to the construction of the production and the cast’s understanding of the production.
“Brendan began as a classics major … so he was able to relate [the show] back to Grecian themes and present a really complete picture of the show. … The cast spent the first two weeks reading ‘The Bacchae,’ which gave us a place to start our own exploration,” cast member Conor Ross (COL ’16) said.
Although “A Mouthful of Birds” was not Quinn’s initial choice for production, he found a true balance of drama and psychological exploration in Churchill’s work during a reexamination of his thesis.
“The play is entirely based on psychology, but what I love about this play is that it doesn’t put labels on different psychoses or corner people into pathologic illness in a certain way,” Quinn said.
Quinn collaborated with Georgetown University Dance Company Production Director Nora Rosengarten (COL ’14) to choreograph movement sequences for the play.
“It has been a gift to have Nora on this project because the movement has truly come from both of us,” Quinn said.
Quinn echoed that it is the combination of academics along with performance that allows for the most poignant comment on the human condition.
“The psychological struggle is in the dramatization, which anthropomorphizes mental illness in a way that allows the audience to viscerally react to things that might otherwise be internal,” Quinn said.
“A Mouthful of Birds” opened Thursday at the Davis Center of Performing Arts’ Devine Studio Theatre and will run for a total of eight performances, closing Jan. 25.