Black Box Theater Festival directors scrutinize scripts

Students direct plays for the Thespian Club’s annual Black Box Theater Festival.

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Nick Popiel

Sophomore Josh Eisenhauer plays a teen addicted to his phone in the comedy “Dependence.”

On a Wednesday afternoon, junior B. Adams sits atop a desk in Room 152, watching her cast read through their half-memorized script. At sporadic intervals, she descends from her perch and moves around the actors, providing gentle criticisms and suggestions:

“Do the exact same thing you were doing, but spin the other way.”

The Black Box Theater Festival is a student written, directed and produced event with student actors. Show dates are April 24-26. Tickets are $3, and Friday night’s dinner theater is an additional $4 if dinner is purchased. In addition to short plays, the Improv team performs.

This year, nine plays were submitted, and five were chosen: one drama, “Seamless,” and four comedies, “Playing Doctor,” “The Real Housewives of Toronto,” “Dependence” and “Conspiracy.”

Because students write the scripts, the drama department doesn’t have to pay royalties. The extra royalties money and the revenue from dinner theater go to the Thespian of the Year scholarship. The $500 scholarship is awarded to the senior student whose peers vote him or her “Best Thespian” at the end of the year thespian banquet.

This year, the drama department has enough to award not only the “Best Thespian,” but also the winner of the “Technical Theater Excellence” award.

“This year, we are going to have enough so the ‘Best Techie,’ the one who’s done the best tech work for the year is also going to get a scholarship,” drama teacher Nancee Beilgard said.

In January, Adams and senior Katie Davis co-wrote their short dramatic play “Seamless” for the Black Box Theater Festival.

“We spent countless hours in her bedroom,” Adams said.  “I was on her couch, she was on her bed … It would go to late in the night, and I’d go home exhausted, but, like, ‘Good. We’re getting somewhere.’ And then we would go at it the next day and be like, ‘Shoot. We gotta scratch all that.’”

It would go to late in the night, and I’d go home exhausted, but, like, ‘Good. We’re getting somewhere.’ And then we would go at it the next day and be like, ‘Shoot. We gotta scratch all that.’”

— Junior B Adams

After laboring over their script, writing and rewriting it, Adams and Davis submitted it for the officers of Thespian Club to evaluate and decide whether or not to include it in the show’s lineup. Factors considered for selection include school appropriateness, quality and affordability.

“One of the things we look for is that the costumes aren’t complicated,” said junior Kayla Clark, Thespian Club Vice President. “It’s usually stuff you can bring from home.”

Even if a play is chosen, the script is subject to change, either at the hands of its authors or at the suggestion of the Thespian Club officers.

“This year we had a lot of edits to the plays,” Clark said. “It’s like, ‘We really like this, but we don’t really like this part, so you need to edit it.’”

After their script is approved, the writers can either direct their play or have someone direct it for them. Sophomore Nat Hoopes asked fellow sophomore Nixi Swedlund to codirect his comedy, “Playing Doctor,” because he was unable to attend every rehearsal due to tennis practice.

“She’s there everyday, and I’m only there half the days,” Hoopes said. “We get along pretty well. Most of our ideas are the same.”

Because Black Box Theater Festival is entirely student run, directors can decide how often rehearsals occur and whether to make additional requirements. Adams and Davis, for example, assigned their cast to create a backstory for their characters.

“When the cast has developed characters, it makes it so much easier for the audience to feel more … since [the play]’s not very long,” Davis said.

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Creating developed characters and an advancing storyline in a short play was a hurdle faced by all writers. Junior Sam Hay, writer and director of “The Real Housewives of Toronto,” understands that the actors have a very limited period of time to convey a story. He believes his cast can overcome this problem by perfecting their Canadian accents.

“Even though mine is really short, there are so many things I want to do with it, but first we need to get the accents,” Hay said.

Even though students greatly influence how and what the Blackbox Theater Festival entails, Beilgard makes sure student work is moving in the right direction, and takes action to ensure quality if necessary.

“I monitor what happens as we go through, and I work with the kids,” Beilgard said. “I have cut plays once they’ve gotten in … But, everything usually goes pretty well, so we don’t usually have a problem with it.”

Despite having to work around everyone’s extracurriculars for scheduling rehearsals while juggling their own activities, Adams and Davis agree preparing for the Black Box Theater Festival has been a positive experience for them and their cast, and they encourage others to participate.

“I always say this: if you’re thinking about joining theater, join during blackbox theater season,” Adams said.