New Stages 32 Showcases Talent, Originality, Unity

The gem of the theatre department, New Stages play series displays talents of student actors, writers and directors

If you’ve never ventured beneath the school to pay a visit to Shaker’s black box theatre, New Stages 32 is certainly a perfect opportunity to do so. A yearly tradition of brief plays entirely written, directed, and performed by students, New Stages is a highly anticipated staple in the community as well as in the Shaker theatre program.

This year, New Stages 32 features four plays. Barbershopera is written by Steven Friedman-Romell, directed by Alex Ramsay and assisted by Katrina Weisner. Leave it to the Professionals is written by Julianna White, directed by Lucy Richman and assisted by Simon Brown. The World Before the Real World is written by Claire Lawrence, directed by Megan Muller-Girard and assisted by Qiana Washington. Finally, Through it Together, At it Alone is written by Megan Muller-Girard, directed by Claire Lawrence and assisted by Joe Matt.

New Stages held open auditions three weeks ago in which students from all over the high school competed for a coveted role in the plays over the course of three days. The series of plays has always been known for attracting students beyond the theatre department. Junior Tal Shutkin had never acted in his life before landing a role. “When one of the writers told me about New Stages I was a bit reluctant at first since I had never done any sort of theatre before,” Shutkin said. When Shutkin got the part, he was thrilled. “I’m really happy I did it, because before New Stages, I never thought that acting was something I could do,” he said.

Junior Rachel Elson was in a similar situation. “I had zero acting experience. There were plenty of technical terms that I was completely clueless on, so I had to be filled in on those. But the short time frame makes everything exciting and everyone is really passionate about the plays so it was easy to get excited too.”

Like Shutkin, Elson was genuinely surprised by her success in landing a role. “I wasn’t expecting to get called back, let alone accepted. I was just enjoying the exposure to the theater world and everything, then I got accepted! Our play Through It Together, At It Alone is about two teenagers, Dylan and Caroline. Dylan is kind of troubled and it’s hinted throughout that he’s got some kind of mental illness. The actual play is Caroline trying to convince Dylan to get treatment for his illness and the conflict that follows as a result,” Elson said.

Even senior Becca Chaney, who has extensive acting experience and even participated in New Stages last year, was thrilled to be cast.“When I found out I was cast, I almost couldn’t believe it because something like 50 people auditioned and there are only a few female roles,” she said. Chaney is cast in Leave it to the Professionals.

Once cast members have been selected, New Stages participants embark on a collaborative effort to perfect the plays and bring them to life.  There is one week of auditions, two weeks of rehearsals, and a final tech week involved in the process, comprising a period of about a month. For the three weeks in which a cast, director and writer must work together to perfect a play, there are rehearsals every day after school. Tech week doesn’t have students leaving school often until 9:00 at night.

The compelling thing about New Stages is that the cast, writers and directors include students with no theatre experience mixed with students who have been part of the theatre department throughout their high school careers. Senior Danielle Smith got a role in New Stages this year for the second year in a row. She is also in the theatre ensemble program. Smith is in Leave it to the Professionals, which is about two characters who are pretending to be paranormal investigators but are actually trying to rob a hotel and fool the hotel employees.

Each New Stages play has a cast of about three to six actors. “Performing in a small cast is harder because you have to create a type of cast bond in a short amount of time,” Smith said. However, this short amount of time is what makes the experience so meaningful. “It allows you to meet knew people and learn different things from your peers,” Smith said.

Another aspect of the New Stages that has made the event so popular for the past three decades at the high school is the audience’s close proximity to the action. Black box theatre leaves much to the viewer’s imagination, using few props and scene changes, and places the viewer in the midst of the play. Playwrights are given  a small window of time — with each play lasting about ten minutes — to develop characters and plot all while managing to captivate the audience.

Playwright Steven Friedman-Romell spent nearly five months in all creating his musical, Barbershopera. “I started writing the music in October. But I would work on it in bursts, sometimes a month apart. I wrote about six minutes of music and the rest was a combination of rhythm and pantomime,” Friedman-Rommel said. “One of the things we discovered during the first couple days of rehearsal was that the actors I’d cast as the barber and the actor actually worked much better in one another’s roles, so we switched them. I’ve enjoyed working with Alex Ramsay as a director.”

As part of the New Stages experience, Friedman-Romell has participated as an actor one year, a director the next, and finally a playwright for his senior year. “I liked directing, but it’s been my favorite position to direct. I’m definitely going to bring Barbershopera with me to college,” Friedman-Romell said. A longtime member of the Shaker theatre community, Friedman-Romell plans to attend Ohio University’s Scripps School of Communication for film.

No matter what level of experience the actors have, they all expressed how much they have enjoyed and learned from New Stages. Collaboration between student playwrights, directors and actors has yielded positive experiences for all.

“I have learned to open up to the audience, take risks and be creative,” Smith said.

Chaney’s favorite part was working with a diverse group of students with all different backgrounds and interests. “I really enjoyed working with students I don’t normally interact with because I love meeting new people and collaborating together allowed us to become much closer and create new friendships.”

New Stages 32 runs  at the high school Wednesday, March 19, and Thursday, March 20, at 7 pm. On Friday, March 21, there are two performances, at 7 pm and 9:15 pm. On Saturday, March 22, there is a 7 pm performance.

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