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Student-directed production of “A Dream Play” opens Friday at SSU

Kaitlyn Cooper
The Vern Riffe Center for the Arts

Students from Shawnee State University will present a completely student-run production of “A Dream Play” at 7 p.m. Friday (Jan. 19) and Saturday (Jan. 20). The show will be held in the Kahl Studio Theater at the Vern Riffe Center for the Arts and is free to the public. Donations are encouraged and will be given to Alpha Psi Omega National Theatre Honor Society to provide funding for future student-led shows and productions. 

“We welcome anyone to the show,” said Savanna Nell, the show’s director. “It will be different, and you will leave thinking.”

According to Nell, the play is “nonsensical, absurd and unreal. It is a philosophical conversation centered around the morality of being human … a study of humanity through an astrological lens.”

The play was written in 1902 by August Strindberg and is known for its artistic exploration of dreams as its characters flow through a questionable reality. The show centers around the “child of Indra” as she goes to Earth to experience human life, often facing causes of human suffering, such as the physical struggle of poverty or the internal warring of various ideologies. Each scene is constructed to feel like a dream, some allowing the characters to discuss lofty ideas regarding existence and others quickly becoming loud, frightening nightmares reflecting the horrors of reality that no one can escape, even when sleeping.

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Nell said that she first learned of this play during a presentation on “theatre of the absurd” during the 2023 spring semester. As a self-described philosophical absurdist, Nell was immediately drawn to the play when she discovered the script.

“The way August Strindberg … transitions from scene to scene is dreamlike,” she said, describing the aesthetic of the production. The show recently came into the public domain, which allowed Nell and her crew to make adjustments to the performance to best fit their vision.

Changes to the script have been minimal, with the most extensive revisions consisting of scenes being cut for their excessive length. Otherwise, the alterations have been stylistic. For example, the lead role is traditionally referred to as “The Daughter,” though the production team at SSU felt that “the character had no particular connection to the concept of gender” and renamed the role “The Child,” according to the director.

Nell is also an avid “space-lover,” so many scenes in the show are performed on different planets based on the themes explored within said scenes. For example, a scene centered on “higher learning and philosophy” occurs on Jupiter, as those concepts are often associated with the planet in astrology. Considering the artistic and experimental nature of this play, the black box theater allows for the set to create the “floating in the void” feeling that Nell is aiming for. 

Savanna Nell, the director of “A Dream Play” at SSU (Photo courtesy of Wally Nell)

The student-run production is an outcome of the SSU Musical Theatre Program’s efforts to provide students a well-rounded education both on and off the stage. Nell and most members of the cast and crew are frequent performers in SSU productions, including recent shows “Cabaret” and “Trafford Tanzi.”

Though she loves performing, Nell said she is excited to direct a show, as she can “be the creative behind the show instead of the clay.” Other members of the crew are also exploring the technical side of stage productions. Jarod Emerson, the set designer, also plays the role of “The Poet” in the show. Madeline Sherck fills multiple roles as the stage manager, audio designer and lighting designer. Nell, while acting as director, has also composed the musical pieces that will be used throughout the show. 

As with any creative presentation, the cast and crew of “A Dream Play” have experienced their fair share of struggles throughout production of the show. Nell explained that some actors were not meeting the standard of professionalism required in theater, which led to a recasting of the lead role a few weeks before opening night. Many cast members were transitioning into different roles, though replacements were still necessary and difficult to find.

Nell said that trust was what saved the production, with “creative, diligent friends” stepping into extensive roles in support of the show despite the obvious time crunch. She expressed particular gratitude to Rachel Barrick and Samson Strong for taking on lead roles two weeks before opening night, as well as Madeline Sherck for her “incredible” capabilities in her various roles as a crew member.

Considering all of the obstacles the group overcame together, Nell wanted to share some highlights of how production has gone. She said that the show’s first full run with lights was the moment that “it all just came together in front of us,” and she expressed pride in how efficiently the actors developed a performance that will appeal to a modern audience.

“I am so proud of the fact that we … have created something weird, interesting, and unique,” she said. “I feel that it’s difficult to find weird art like this in this area, and hope that we can continue making weird art in the future.”

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About the Contributor
Kaitlyn Cooper
Kaitlyn Cooper, Staff Reporter
Kaitlyn Cooper is a sophomore at Shawnee State University. Born in Kentucky and raised near Portsmouth, Kaitlyn is familiar with the surrounding area and has been involved in the large community for most of her life. With so many opportunities for future careers in her area, Kaitlyn struggled for years with deciding on the perfect major. Finally, she decided on English with a concentration in Communications. Kaitlyn is known for having a wide variety of interests, so she feels that pursuing a career in journalism is a perfect fit for her. For Kaitlyn, writing has been a skill and a pastime of hers since she was young. As a little girl, she enjoyed creating short newspapers with information about what had happened at school during the day and how much she loved her family and pets. Today, she is interested in investigative journalism and hopes to be deeply involved with it after earning her degree. Writing for the Chronicle will not only be a fun experience for Kaitlyn, but she also hopes it will help her refine her skill as a writer and narrow down her choices for her post-graduation plan. With this semester being her second with the Chronicle, Kaitlyn hopes to use her new writing experience to write interesting articles that appeal to the students at Shawnee State University. Her focus for this semester will be learning more about the field of journalism and exploring more topics in-depth rather than just report on breaking news. COVID-19 has been causing some issues for everyone, but Kaitlyn does not intend to let these setbacks prevent her from getting a good story. No matter what hurdles she may have to jump, Kaitlyn is dedicated to her readers and getting them the information they need.

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    Wally NellJan 18, 2024 at 6:50 pm

    Proud of you!