There has been a recent onslaught of original works of student theater. But, for most of the time, these productions are associate to an academic department. As a Senior project. Media Studies major Sean Eads ’15 is breaking that mold. This school year Ead’s creativity came into realized form as “Sludge Dump,” an original musical which will be going up in workshop form this weekend.
“It’s about sludge dumping, which is sort of a modern phenomenon,” said Eads. “It’s the process whereby a small town becomes the receptacle for a larger city’s sewage dump. It’s sort of based on a real town, but I changed a bunch of facts so it’s not factual.”
Although the show will be going up this weekend, Eads has been working on “Sludge Dump” for years. “It started in 2005 actually, when my mother first told me about a plot of land that she actually owns,” said Eads. “It’s based off of stories I’ve heard and real news articles and I’ve just put it all together with music.”
The music is one of the aspects of the “Sludge Dump” that cast and crew members alike are most excited about—it’s all original and written by Eads himself. “I just want people to hear the music that Sean wrote. It’s really something special. It has to be heard by this campus,” said Patrick Brady ’15, who plays Kid, a newcomer to the town.
The cast and crew of “Sludge Dump” are extremely excited to be a part of an original work. “Before this cast he’s never heard the music in human form, besides his voice, and he’s never been able to put faces to the characters,” said Emily Wexler ‘14, who is playing Tina, a political activist and daughter of the town mayor. “He’s able to change things around based on the cast that he has. All of the parts can get tailored to the people who are originating them.”
Indeed, the whole process of putting up “Sludge Dump” has been collaborative and freeform for all of those involved in the production, according to Eads. “In the very beginning, 12 of us would gather into a tiny room in Skinner and I would be at the piano and the singers would be learning their parts,” said Eads. “It would be a collaborative process. We all have our different strengths.” Eads and the cast were able to flesh out each of the characters throughout the workshopping process.
The collaborative nature and originality of “Sludge Dump” lends itself to more pros than cons from Eads’ perspective. “You go into it not knowing how people are going to respond to it, which is part of the reason I am doing this workshop,” said Eads. “At a certain point in the writing process you just have to know what it’s going to look like with other people.”
Eads is also extremely pleased with the process by which his workshop is going up. “I had the script and the music and I knew that I wanted them to learn the lines and the songs but whatever happened from there is totally freeform. It is a workshop. It’s not a full production so in a large way it is part of the writing process for me,” said Eads.
The creative freedom allowed to students producing original works on campus is seen by artists as just another way Vassar functions to foster its students. “It’s a whole other world and it reminds me of the idea that if you really want to learn something you should teach it. You have to know so much more about something to share it with somebody else,” said Brady. “I think there’s so much to learn about yourself and how to make theater by inventing it, creating it from nothing. There are no rules, no tradition that you have to follow and I think every artist has to do this at some point.”
Even though students are generally given free range for the process of putting up a production on campus, many times it still seems as if projects are underfunded and undersupported. “There is sadly not a lot of funding for student theater at campus,” stated production assistant Alex Schlesinger ’14 in an emailed statement. “Some of the most transformative, powerful and creative theater productions that I have witnessed in my four years have taken place in the realm of student theater, but these shows often do not have enough support from the school, or the theater department.”
The show went without any support from the theater department. “I’m proud to say this was done on a budget of zero dollars, which ideally lends itself to a DIY aesthetic and not an ‘underfunded’ aesthetic,” explained Eads.
While the process continues to be difficult, Eads still found the experience to be beneficial to him not only as a writer but also as an artist. “Student theater should be going in that direction because original work is inspiring and it’s great to be working on something that you have created with your peers,” said Eads. “There aren’t too many standards that I have to abide by. I’ve had a lot of freedom to do what I want but also the cast and the crew have been a huge part of the process. We have had the chance to play a lot and to bounce ideas off of each other and see what works. It has been a really open process.”
In the end, Eads is satisfied with the production as a whole and is excited to be able to present it to his fellow peers. “I’m definitely a little nervous to see how people react to it, but I also know we are putting it on in a school that is definitely very open and welcoming to original material. That’s calming for me. I keep reminding myself that it is a workshop and this is the purpose of it: to get feedback.”