Theater Majors Present Senior Thesis Performances
ADVENTURES IN 'WANDERLAND'
Published: Friday, February 8, 2013
Updated: Friday, February 8, 2013 17:02
Whether it’s an improv performance, a classical tragedy or a critically acclaimed musical, there is always a new student-run drama circulating at Georgetown. Home to the oldest collegiate theater society in the country — Mask & Bauble — and numerous other acting groups, the Hilltop boasts one of the most active and beloved performance arts scenes in Washington, D.C. And though we all love to support our friends as they take center stage in extracurricular plays at Poulton Hall and the Davis Performing Arts Center, we often do not recognize those students behind the curtains pursuing dramatic arts degrees.
The Georgetown Theater and Performance Studies program hasn’t always been a notable program, but now they are . The program, known for its small size and academic rigor, has been ranked as the second best theater program in the nation outside of New York by Back Stage, an entertainment company dedicated to providing career and casting information and advice for aspiring performers.
While there may not be very many of them — Theater Department Director Maya Roth says that there are only about eight Theater and Performance Studies majors in the class of 2013 — the competition for the two openings for senior thesis writers on the Davis Performing Arts Center’s schedule is always fierce. According to Roth, the thesis selection process began over a year ago, when all interested theater majors prepared and submitted proposals, articulating how their original performances would culminate their theater experience at Georgetown. Applicants have to be honors level within the department and have some coursework and theatrical experience in areas relevant to production, such as direction, stage management or design. Once they are selected, they are given faculty advisors, and the creation and editing process begins. This year, the students offering their artistic visions for the Georgetown community in “Wanderland” are Alice Cash (COL ’13) and Swedian Lie (COL ’13).
The first of the two performances, “Golden Shard,” is helmed by Cash, who was inspired to produce her own work after hearing the story of the creation of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.”
“The story itself is kind of weird, but the backstory behind it is incredibly complex and it’s not told very much. It’s also the 150th anniversary of when the story was told, so I think it’s a good time to tell it,” Cash said.
Cash had been fascinated with the story of the creation of Alice in Wonderland and the friendship between Lewis Carroll (the pen name of writer Charles Dodgson) and his young muse Alice Lidell since high school, and worked with her faculty advisors — especially her lead advisor, professor Derek Goldman — in taking the story of their unique relationship and adapting it for the stage while maintaining her artistic vision.
This form of adaptation is certainly not the only way to create interesting and original theatrical performance. Lie’s original work takes a very different approach to create a dynamic and visual final product. The work is called “Chiaroscuro,” named for the painting technique that calls attention to the dramatic play between highlights and shadows — a theme that Lie threads throughout the performance.
“It’s an exploration of identity,” Lie said. “I’m a Chinese-Indonesian, but I live in the States so I have divided loyalty, and the show is about navigating the mysterious grey zone of identity.”
While he initially proposed a one-man-show with himself in the lead, his production has evolved through workshops and faculty cooperation to a three-person show, with two of the actors serving as a chorus.
Lie worked very closely with Roth, his primary faculty advisor, in developing his distinct style through the entire year-long development and revision process.
“Swedian [Lie]’s project is deeply infused with a performance art sensibility and a directorial perspective,” Roth said. “He is very theoretically aware and understands a lot about cultural theories and the history of Indonesia, which help frame his work in a very experiential framework.”
There should be no doubts about the intensity and difficulty of the thesis-writing process. Both Lie and Cash have had to navigate this complicated and rewarding process in ways that emphasize their strengths and design preferences and embrace the aspects of production with which they had less experience.
While both students have extensive experience in almost every aspect of theatrical production, neither student had major experience writing and developing his own performance piece.
“It was really overwhelming at first to think, ‘I have to write a play, a complete play!’ But then, after doing research, it all just kind of came together and worked itself out,” Cash said.
In Cash’s case, playing to her personal strengths meant emphasizing her extensive directorial experience and drawing her inspiration from an established storyline — the story of the creation of Alice in Wonderland. Adapting source material has become somewhat of a specialty for the Georgetown theater program and professor Goldman, who acted as Cash’s primary faculty advisor. Goldman described Cash’s research process as highly involved in academic research and inquiry.
“She spent most of the summer doing her research and gathering,” Goldman said.