Idlewild devises sea shanty show

On Dec. 1 at 7 p.m. and Dec. 2 at 5 and 8 p.m., the Idlewild Theatre Ensemble, Vassar’s all femme and non- binary student theatre group, will be presenting its new show “Maiden Voyage” in the Kenyon Club Room. / Courtesy of Idlewild Theatre Ensemble

Creating a work from a simple concept can seem like a miracle. One word or idea suddenly sparks a curiosity that grows into an hour-long production filled with a rich story, developed characters and full technical elements. All from one simple idea. Many pro- ductions at least try to use a source text to refer back to, but an original concept both presents a greater challenge and gives a more fulfilling journey.

Idlewild Theatre Ensemble’s devised production “Maiden Voyage” sets sail in the Kenyon Club Room on Friday, Dec. 1, at 7 p.m. and Saturday, Dec 2., at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. Idlewild is a non-hierarchal student theatre group of femme and non-binary theatremakers.

“Maiden Voyage” is a devised piece about a disaster at sea shown through the eyes of different characters in a nonlinear structure. The piece is based on an original concept revolving around the subject of sea shanties.

Idlewild ensemble member Sarah Rubin ’20 has served as music director and co-props designer and will be performing in the production. Rubin spoke about how the group generated the initial idea on which they based their process: “It started out as a vague concept. The six of us met twice at the beginning of the year to try to come up with something we wanted to do. We decided we were interested in sea shanties and we took it from there. We added more members and then started devising around that original concept. It stayed basically true to how we started with sea shanties.”

This semester’s ensemble includes both new members to Idlewild and new members to the devising process. However, unlike previous Idlewild devised pieces in the recent past, this production did not have a source text, making this a fresh experience for all involved. In Fall 2016, Idlewild devised a piece called “Fall of Boy,” which was based on John Knowles novel “A Separate Peace.” However, because of the original concept, members have had to take on a more experimental and improvisational process this time around.

Idlewild ensemble member Lindsay Matheos ’19 will be stage managing the show as well as singing. Discussing the way that this devised format affected the initial process, Matheos said: “We did a lot of dramaturgical research into women on boats, since the show takes place vaguely in the 1700s or early 1800s. So we explored what role women had in nautical culture in those times. We found a lot of cool narratives from female lighthouse keepers, which is really fascinating. We don’t have any source texts. The closest we have are a couple of sea shanties we’re performing that are already written, but the rest was us saying, ‘Oh, wouldn’t it be cool if this happened or what about this?’ But it’s not based off of anything.”

Without an initial script or full musical score, the rehearsal process has been different from the traditional theatre process. Instead of analyzing a script’s text or blocking with a structure in mind, the ensemble brought in their own sources and created their script through trial and error, experimenting until satisfied.

Idlewild ensemble member Mars Martin ’20 has co-designed the props as well as worked on movement and facilitating the devising process. Despite working previously on Idlewild’s “Fall of Boy,” Martin has been in the same boat as other Idlewild ensemble members in approaching “Maiden Voyage” with a novel perspective: “I worked on the devised show last fall, but we had a source text; in most ways, we stayed pretty true to the text and did a lot of writing separately and then putting it together afterward. So we had a longer rehearsal process because we didn’t have to literally make up characters or a plot. I think it has been a challenge for us to come up with a plot from absolutely nothing and especially with a whole bunch of people. But over the time we’ve been working on it, I think our ideas have coagulated, if you will.”

While members do hold design roles for each individual production, the ensemble’s non-hierarchal structure allows each member to tackle a new role and explore various jobs in a collaborative environment, an opportunity not as readily available in a less collective environment.

Martin reflected on how her design opportunities have both influenced her as a theatremaker and allowed her to expand into other areas of theatre: “Because I stage-managed for Idlewild, then I went and stage-managed for other things. I have never in my life wanted to write plays or felt like that was something I could ever do, but I think that both this year and last year, I’ve found that when you really have to, it brings things out in you.”

For their devised production, Idlewild will be using the Kenyon Club Room, which is not often used as a theatrical space. The group has a history of using alternative spaces for their productions, staging The Five Lesbian Brothers’ play “The Secretaries” in the woods near the Wimpfheimer Nursery in Spring 2017 and María Irene Fornés’ play “Fefu and Her Friends” in several parlors on the second floor of Main in Spring 2016.

Martin spoke about how working in a non-conventional performing space influenced the show’s blocking and design: “I personally haven’t worked in a non-traditional space inside before. The room has a very particular quality to it, with the way the roof is and the windows. I think that’s definitely informed a lot of our ideas for the show, like blocking and to an extent knowing that was the space. We’ve been excited to use the space since we decided we were going to.”

This semester, Idlewild admitted several new members, including Julianna DeAngelis ’20, Alice Marbach ’21 and Lucy Purnine ’21. After holding auditions in September, the ensemble also welcomed Cat Sillars ’21, Halle Smith ’20 and Zoe Wennerholm ’19. In addition to Martin, Matheos and Rubin, Chloe Catoya ’20, Sarah Rivers ’20 and Rachel Wallace ’20 are returning Idlewild members. Ensemble member Rebecca Whittaker ’18 is currently abroad for the semester.

Tickets for “Maiden Voyage” can be found at the Information Desk in the College Center. The show runs for under 75 minutes. Additionally, audience members will be sitting on the floor with limited seating.

Because of the collaborative element of the devised process, Idlewild members have been able to incorporate their voices throughout the experience. Explaining how this shared creation has attached more value to their work, Matheos said, “Especially through the writing process, I feel everyone has at least one of their ideas in the show, which I think is not uncommon for devised theatre. Still, it feels like the show belongs to everyone, which I think is really fun.”

Idlewild’s production “Maiden Voyage” is based on an original concept that tells the story of a disaster at sea told from various perspectives in a non-linear narrative. / Courtesy of Alice Marbach

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