Have you ever seen a show with an angry young man who beats the odds and challenges of the world? Or the tragic character that slips up and loses it all? At some point, these shows become boring and lose the edge they once had, instead becoming part of what they once rebelled and experimented away from. It’s at that point that a new idea must reevaluate what’s considered theatre. Jimmy Pavlick ’18’s “Hystrion Part 1: The Ink Ossuary” will do just that.
On Thursday, April 14, 15 and 16, “Hystrion Part 1: The Ink Ossuary” will make its stage debut in the Susan Stein Shiva Theater. Presented by Unbound, Vassar’s experimental student theatre organization, the show was written and directed by Pavlick and stage managed by Kayleigh Marshall ’18. There will be a talkback after the Thursday and Friday shows.
In “Hystrion Part 1: The Ink Ossuary,” Hamlet, Anguish and Eyeball, played by Evan Chyriwski ’17, Isis Lecaro Catalan ’18 and Gabriela Calderon ’18, respectively, confront threats of commercialization and the slow fade of relevance in maintaining their friendship. In addition to those conflicts, The Gaze, a movement ensemble that has an ominous influence over these characters, surrounds them. A play filled with numerous layers, both in plot and technical design. With a current run time of under 30 minutes, “Ink Ossuary” provides a critique of the theatre world while simultaneously drawing influence from superheroes, queerness and film theory.
Besides the linear plot onstage, Pavlick has written this show with two other levels in mind: “The deepest layer is the idea that, in Vassar’s student theatre community, there is a damaging disrespect paid towards designers and design teams by actor-oriented directors. Directors, previously actors, seek to direct a show in order to work with actors and end up embodying a theatre that makes no space for its designers. The second layer is my personal dissatisfaction with the tropes of Vassar student theatre. Three semesters of watching most of the shows on campus has led me to see trends of theme, design, portrayal, characterization and relationships that worry me and come off as repetitive.”
Pavlick originally wrote “Ink Ossuary” in their playwriting class last fall before proposing it to Unbound this semester. Unlike most student theatre that tends to feature very minimalist tech design, Pavlick wrote this with the intention of shining a light on what usually hides in the booth.
Choreographer and Assistant Director Leora Randall-Tavari ’18 described the innovative quality of having the writer as the director, saying, “I think this show is experimental because it is an original work. We don’t have a lot of original work staged at Vassar, unfortunately, and I think that’s really sad. There’s so much freedom when you get to bring a work to life for the first time. There’s no ‘right’ way that it’s been done already, and everything feels fresh. This is just the first run of this show, and based on how it goes here, it can change and grow in infinite ways. These performances are an experiment in and of themselves.”
In an effort to break conventions and challenge theatre at Vassar, the production team has made deliberate choices that provide a commentary on those traditions. For example, one of these choices is very little blue light in the entirety of the production, a technical effect other shows overindulge in.
“The process has been trying, but also so fun. I feel like I’m working muscles I didn’t even know I had. So there are days I come home and am exhausted in a way I’ve never really felt, but I also haven’t thus far been so excited by something I’m doing at Vassar. And Jimmy has been a phenomenal guide through all of this,” Calderon extolled about her experience in “Ink Ossuary,” which is their first foray the world of theatre. “I only want to get better at this. And if Jimmy directs another play, I will absolutely be the first one at auditions.”
Further elaborating on the ensemble feeling this show’s cast and crew have approached it with, Lecaro Catalan said, “Since there are no ‘humans’ in this play, and the reality of the world is the theatre, we’ve really been exploring this world and its dynamics and the relationships between the characters. Jimmy, as the director and writer, is so humble and flexible. When we talk about the script, they always care to hear our interpretations and take them seriously. They never push for anything that feels forced for us on stage which I think we all really appreciate.”
In the heart of theatre lies good storytelling. And as this art develops, there must be new ways of telling stories. New voices must be heard and new elements must be harnessed. “Ink Ossuary” harnesses these new elements by focusing on the technical possibilities within theatre and artistic elements of original writing.
“I hope that audiences walk away thinking more about the theatre on the campus. I think a lot of people walk out of student theatre or department shows on this campus analyzing what they saw and what the text means without really taking into account the design choices made to bring the world to life. I hope people come out of our show thinking, ‘I wonder why they did that?’” Marshall discussed the discourse she hopes “Ink Ossuary” will ignite, “We’re all here because Jimmy reached out to us, but we agreed to work on the project because we believe in it.”