Devised theater investigates complexity of human relations

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by Katie de Heras

Unbound, Vassar College’s experimental theater group will present “Park Closes After Dusk,” a student–devised production this upcoming weekend, through Dec. 3 to 5. The di­rector of this theater piece, John Rezes ’18 saw the creative philosophy of Unbound in line with his vision for this work. He wrote in an emailed statement, “I decided to propose this through Unbound because I wanted to put ‘Park Closes After Dusk’ into action, and Unbound’s ideas of experimental theatre really matched with my personal beliefs with this project.”

In “Park Closes After Dusk,” a playground offers both a retrospective and introspective lens into the lives of two high school students complexly linked together by a mutual friend. At the playground, they share their stories and secrets. The encounters develop into a raw concurrence. Rezes elaborated on the theme of this narrative. “The storyline focuses on two individuals entering a playground from both of their childhoods, neither having met the other. They are both in limbo concerning the well–being of a mutual third character whose fate is out of their hands. It focuses on rela­tionships and the harsh themes of childhood that many people forget exist,” he explained.

Narrative supervisor of the production Lena Redford ’18 pointed to the subtlety of the story. “Two of these characters do not know each other, but are both in love with the same person in different and complicated ways. It’s a complex situation with nuanced characters that John has spent months creating.”

As with all creative processes, Rezes strug­gled with his work. He did not think that his characters had enough authenticity and in­dependence. “‘Park Closes After Dusk’ is a dramatic plot that I created over the last few years. While much of my efforts to write the play in its entirety seemed fruitful, I kept find­ing myself in a place of discontentment. The plot and characters were mine, but I wanted true voices,” Rezes explained.

Rezes’ solution was ambiguity and open­ness. These features served as vehicles to overcome obstacles and oddly gave structure to Rezes’ skeleton script. Redford elaborated on this special form of script, “As narrative supervisor, I helped the cast of ‘Park Closes After Dusk’ develop their script. It was a re­ally interesting process. It is devised theatre so we were not working with a previously es­tablished play. Working within the ‘skeleton script’ that John developed, we crafted scenar­ios in which three characters: Fourteen, Eigh­teen and Third interact and evolve.”

She continued, “The skeleton script is in­tentionally vague so the situation and charac­ters can be inhabited by different actors and writers to create an entirely different play in the future.”

Possibly in an attempt to underscore the universality of the play’s thematic ideas, the characters lack defining traits. Rezes wrote, “Earlier this semester I decided to write a skeleton script. In this piece, I keep the over­arching narrative of my characters’ lives in­tact, while allowing other writers/actors the chance to devise dialogue and backstories that are more true. The skeleton removes gender identity, sexuality and other defining qualities from the characters, allowing for completely neutral casting and devising.”

Aside from the technical features of the script, the writing process proved to be mul­tidimensional and colorful in experience. Redford recounted, “It was interesting work­ing inside a world someone else had created, breathing life into characters we did not yet know. But boy did we get to know them! The writing process was time-consuming and hi­larious and unproductive and productive and frustrating and satisfying.”

After establishing a narrative foundation, Unbound moved onto the casting process. Rezes wrote, “After the casting process, it turns out that the show is made up of three female-identifying actors/characters.”

“This play, the one Miranda, Arden and Sar­ah perform, follows three females and exhibits the ways in which these young women treat themselves and each other,” elaborated Red­ford.

“This production was devised and is per­formed by Arden Shwayder ’16, Sarah Horow­itz ’17, and Miranda Cornell ’19. The devising process was overseen by our narrative super­visor Lena Redford ’18. The concept design for the show was headed by Whitney Brady ’18,” wrote Rezes.

Moreover, the devising process was also an enriching learning experience for many mem­bers of the production. The assistant stage di­rector of the piece Charlotte Varcoe-Wolfson ’19 said, “I’m grateful that I got the opportu­nity to participate in student theater as a first semester freshman. I’ve learned a lot about stage maneuvering and tonight I learned how to work the sound board!”

By and large, Rezes hopes to peel away at the oversimplification of being a human. Through a microscopic look into the fibers of human emotions and relationships, he seeks to evoke a self–realization. Rezes explained, “We hope that the student body will see a play that explores the complexity of what it means to be human. There is no such thing as a true antagonist in this world, and this piece tries to expand on that idea.”

Rezes continued, “Addy, Washington is beautiful in the autumn; we guarantee swings, leaves, Taylor Swift, Harry Potter references and a love triangle that defies genre.”

Prospective spectators and Unbound members alike have high hopes for this one– hour bildungsroman, redolent of childhood, shrouded in visceral elements and bound to­gether by complex relationships.

Redford concluded, “The script is both highly emotional and hilarious. I was only a part of the writing process, but with the as­tounding technical work of talented thespians like Whitney and Daisy and John, I can only imagine how intriguing it will be to watch as a full production.”

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