“The Big Picture App?” Explores Global Issues of Technology and Social Networking

On March 29, “The Big Picture App?,” which according to the department of Theater, Film, and Media studies (TFMS) website is  director Meredith Taylor’s “latest and final project for the college,” opened in the Bruce Davis theater for the 2011-2012 theater season.

The play explores hot topics of our modern society through satire, media clips, poetry, music, and other artistic forms. “The Big Picture App?” comments on an array of global issues such as our dependency on technology, personal health, self-perception, and the environment. The play looks at how we deal with these problems and how we can find solutions on a community level.

The central theme of “The Big Picture App?” is how technology affects our personal lives. The play reminds us how contradictory it is to be connected to each other through technology, such as social networking sites, while being disconnected to each other in reality and on the simplest, human level.  The play features personal and localized links to SMCM as the cast gave their own backgrounds and discussed topics such as the living wage, mold, and Occupy DC.

As an original piece written by the cast, “The Big Picture App?” was a beautiful and eye-opening performance. It offered a different way of confronting the issues that haunt us on a daily basis. As the ensemble faced cancer, media constraints. brainwashing, and nuclear warfare, one couldn’t help but be in complete awe of the effort that went into the play. The actors’ individual performances were especially powerful and enjoyable to watch.

Despite a minor sound glitch, which the cast handled professionally, the play was a wonderful success. It was also innovative to use recycled material to form the stage wall and the masks and costumes such as senior Briana Manente’s  bottle label lab coat. The cast also welcomed and involved audience participation by speaking to them personally, giving them certain roles, and allowing them to sit in seats around and on the stage.  Through laughs and gasps, the play definitely got its point across.

“The Big Picture App?” will continue to run through Saturday, April 7. Tickets can be reserved by emailing the box office at boxoffice@smcm.edu or by calling 240-895-4243.

SMCM Awaits The 'Big Picture App?'

St. Mary’s students are set to perform in the upcoming project The Big Picture App? which is an original collaborative piece created by its own cast and directed by TFMS professor, Meredith Taylor. The student written play is based on a class taught by Taylor titled the Art of Happening that studied material from the Happenings of the 1960s to the current use of Flash Mobs.

The Big Picture App? will include urgent issues in today’s society involving the environment, body image, race, politics, and many other topics. “The aim is to use a variety of theater staples such as vignettes, improvisation, and multimedia presentations to address societal issues on both a local and international scale…” says Zach Eser (Senior),  a student involved and performing in The Big Picture App?  The play will also discuss the concept of interconnectedness and what role it has in this age of technology. Creative pieces ranging from physical theater and dance to writing and film will be used to express the issues presented.

The project will also rely on audience participation.   “It will deal with positive changes, with the audience asking themselves where would I start and what could I do?” says Taylor. It is the hope of all those involved that the audience will learn from this experience and act in response.  “We as a cast and as the intellectual body of the work want to make our audience think” explains Eser.  The student ensemble is currently in the midst of devising the script for the piece. The set and costumes are also to be a provocative portion of the play considering that they will be made from recycled material.

Auditions were held for the performance project on January 18th.  Taylor described the auditions as “a bit of a strange situation since the students were excited but unsure of how the project would be conducted.” However, the diverse group of students selected are enthusiastic about the play. “The ensemble is a truly gifted menagerie of actors with all kinds of different experiences that, on the whole, will make for some very thought provoking theater” Eser says. Rehearsals and other workshops have begun for the Big Picture App?, which plays at the Bruce Davis Theater from March 29th to April 7th

"As You Like It" to Open Mid-October

William Shakespeare’s pastoral romantic comedy, As You Like It, opens Thursday, October 13, at 8 p.m. and runs through Sunday, October 23 in the Bruce Davis Theater, MH. Ticket prices are $4 or $6, general admission. To make reservations, call the Theater Box Office at 240-895-4243 or e-mail boxoffice@smcm.edu.

Produced by the Department of Theater, Film, and Media Studies and directed by faculty member and Shakespeare expert Michael Ellis-Tolaydo, As You Like It is showing Oct. 13-15 and 20-22 at 8 p.m. and Oct. 16 and 23 at 2 p.m.

Like all of Shakespeare’s romantic comedies, including A Midsummer’s Night Dream and Twelfth Night, As You Like It is about love. Who will fall in love, out of love, escape love, pine for love, or have love requited. Love is what makes the world go round.

In the Forest of Arden, where Shakespeare sets most of the action of his play, everything turns topsy-turvy and nothing is what it seems to be.

Arden is Shakespeare’s signature magical place, set far from the political rivalries and intrigues of royal Court life. Here, with a little bit of clowning, lots of disguise, and some music and song, the outcast and dissenter finds refuge, renewal, and love at first sight.

“It’s funny, you know. The play starts out like a serious drama,” director Ellis-Tolaydo says. “Treachery, envy, bad blood between brothers, political maneuverings, abuses of power, disloyalties. Then we escape to the forest, where the seemingly improbable happens. We learn of the importance of love in human existence.”

As the play’s fool, Touchstone, sums it up. “Would you rather have a fool to make me merry than experience to make me sad?”

With the help of her cousin Celia (sophomore Katie Henry) and Touchstone (senior Jess O’Rear), the banished Rosalind (first-year Emma Kaufman) searches in Arden for her exiled mother, the deposed but rightful Duchess (senior Jameylyn Warren). Disguised as the boy Ganymede, she meets Orlando (junior Nick Huber), whom she loved at Court, but who is now on the run from his treacherous elder brother, Oliver (junior Zach Eser).

Romance, however, outsmarts intrigue.

Smitten by Rosalind in her disguise as the boy Ganymede, Orlando pines melancholically for requited love, and pins his declarations to tree after tree in the forest. Will he find it?

In “As You Like It,” the human heart may be fickle, but Rosalind’s optimism trumps all.

Artist Spotlight: Christopher Murk

Upon entering St. Mary’s, senior Christopher Murk was unaware of the impact he would have on the theater department as a dedicated Theater Studies major. As a transfer student from Carroll Community College located in Westminster, Christopher was unsure of the path he would take at St. Mary’s.

Murk began his educational career as an English major and it wasn’t until a professional contact in SMCM led him to theater that he began to take a stronger interest in the art. Once Murk became more involved in theater, he came to the realization that “this is what I want to do.” Now Murk has been performing for over 10 years and has assisted with and starred in over 15 plays such as Mother Hicks and The Bald Soprano. Both were featured at SMCM’s Bruce Davis Theater.

Murk had to practice to establish himself as a good performer and stage manager. He says of his first audition, “I didn’t really know what I was doing.” But now he understands that perfecting theater means “copious rehearsals” and “balancing your free time.” His colleague and fellow TFMS student, Jonathan Wagner said, “He is 100% dedicated to the productions he works on, and is set on bringing whatever he can to the table for them.” Murk has become an excellent example of how hard work pays off.

Some people believe that performing in front of a live audience would be intimidating. Murk replies with a smile, “Not for me.” According to Murk, performing brings a fun adrenaline rush. However, he does prepare for a play by rehearsing his lines and “situating [himself] as a character and placing [himself] in their thoughts.” Wagner said, “He is always prepared and always focused on the goal.”

Murk and his colleagues agree that becoming a Theater Studies major was one of the best decisions he has made. It is clear that SMCM will be seeing more of Murk, including a performance in the theater department’s upcoming play As You Like It.

TFMS Dept. Promotes Student Work

The first Theater, Film and Media Studies (TFMS) Student Video Festival took place on April 5 at Cole Cinema. A variety of student films produced in the Media Production classes of Spring 2010 were shown. The films ranged from light-hearted and goofy, to experimental and dreamy, to serious and investigative. According to Media Production professor and assistant professor of TFMS David Ellsworth, the films were “self-selected for the showcase by the students who made the films, which means that the students who feel good about their work want to show off their hard work, but the films that maybe students didn’t feel as good about, they didn’t necessarily want to show theirs.” Senior Aaron Siegel said after the festival that it was a “good showing…it seemed like these were the students’ very best efforts.”

Many of the films focused at least tangentially on the natural beauty of the St. Mary’s campus at varying times of year, with one specifically documenting the intense snowstorms of Spring 2010 and another highlighting the calm and tranquility of the St. Mary’s River after the daily stresses and anxieties of a typical student’s day.  However, in most films there were extended shots of the scenery of the path and academic buildings. Ellsworth commented that student films often are “little snapshots of the school.” Many students might recognize, for example, the conflict that the final film of the evening, “Whose Beach is it Now?” focused on two students escaping to the Historic St. Mary’s site colloquially known as ‘Daffodil Valley’, and the perhaps understandable desire to have it all to yourself all of the time.

Three films of the evening were portraits of specific TFMS faculty members, interspersing shots of the daily life of the TFMS department with interviews of the faculty about their journey into teaching. The portraits showed how TFMS classes can be much different than other academic departments, and highlighted the strengths of the faculty and the shows that the department has put on over the past year.

Another film in the documentary section focused on perceptions of marijuana use at St. Mary’s College, featuring interviews from a variety of students, administrators, and staff. Between students, and administrators there seemed to be very little agreement about how much students actually use marijuana, and furthermore, how much of that use is indeed problematic.

Ellsworth said that while he wished more students had been able to come to the event, for the first showing ever he was pleased with the turn-out and reception, and that “hopefully we can do this again next year.”


Three Minute Review: Mother Hicks Dynamic and Fun

This weekend the play “Mother Hicks,” directed by Associate Professor of Theatre Holly Blumner, opened as part of the Theater Film and Media Studies (TFMS) Department’s  2010-2011 Theater Season.

The play takes place in 1935 in Ware, Illinois, when the country is suffering the effects of the Great Depression. The play centers around the characters Tuck (junior Chris Murk), Girl (first-year Katie Henry), Mother Hicks (junior Briana Manente) and their struggles as outsiders.

Tuck is both deaf and mute, yet through Blumner’s use of sign language and the interpretation of other characters, Tuck narrates the play. Tuck uses only sign language and a wide array of facial expressions to communicate throughout the play. Chris Murk as Tuck signs so beautifully that it is shocking to learn that he did not know sign language before this play. He expresses himself so well that the audience has to simply look at his face to tell what he is thinking.

The two female leads, Katie Henry and Briana Manete are no less impressive with their speaking roles. In fact, the two female leads really bring their characters to life through their use of dialect. Henry’s ‘Girl’ is such an Illinois tomboy that when she is on stage the audience is completely enraptured by her. Henry could not have been better cast to play such a character. She lends so much spunk and childlike disobedience to the character, that you nearly forget she is a first-year in college and not a young girl.

Manete’s ‘Mother Hicks’ is also enrapturing to watch. Accusations of being a witch have isolated Mother Hicks from the rest of the community and Manente’s portrayal uses this forced isolation to create a gruff, independent, yet pitiful character.

Like Henry’s portrayal of Girl, Manete brings her character to life so wonderfully that when she steps off the stage as herself you half wonder how she will receive you.

Overall the play was wonderfully done. All of the actors were at the top of their game, the use of sign language was interesting and dynamic, and the costumes and props were wonderfully authentic.

The only point of contention was the way the stage was designed. Its diamond pattern meant that often characters would stand where only half of the audience could see them. For a majority of the play this was not a problem, but for some scenes one had to guess what was occurring since it was impossible to see.

Tickets for Mother Hicks can be reserved by email at boxoffice@smcm.edu or phone at (240)-895-4243.


The “Bald Soprano” Opens For Limited Performances

Eugène Ionesco’s one-act comedy, “The Bald Soprano,” opens Wednesday, Dec. 8, at 8 p.m. and runs through Sunday, Dec. 12 in the Bruce Davis Theater, Montgomery Hall.
Ticket prices are $4 or $6, general admission.

To make reservations, call the Theater Box Office at 240-895-4243 or e-mail boxoffice@smcm.edu.

Produced by the Department of Theater, Film, and Media Studies and directed by faculty member Mark A. Rhoda, “The Bald Soprano” performs Dec. 8-11 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 12 at 2 p.m.
Between 1950 and 1955, French playwright Ionesco wrote a series of one-act “nonsense” plays.

These so-called “absurdist” plays, which Ionesco dubbed “anti-plays” or “comedies of comedies,” capture in ways both wildly funny and darkly humorous post-war feelings of alienation and the impossibility and futility of communication.

“Describe ‘The Bald Soprano’?,” director Rhoda laughs. “Well, to steal a line from that great 1950 movie, ‘All About Eve,’ ‘Fasten your seat belts, it’s gonna be a bumpy night.’

“I partly chose to direct Ionesco’s bizarre little play because it is a hilarious antidote and fitting complement to the verbal virtuosity of Noel Coward’s “Hay Fever,” the comedy that recently closed in the Bruce Davis Theater.

“Unlike Coward’s play, Ionesco’s sets out show how human discourse devolves into platitudinous inanity and triviality. Language, or more accurately, its non-sense, savagely betrays the banality and ferocity of our living, to both laugh-out-loud and mock-tragic consequence.”

The premise of Ionesco’s comedy is simple. Everything reeks of English: from the determinedly middle-class English interior, replete with English armchairs and an English fireplace, to the not-so-proper and overworked Mary (junior Jess O’Rear), the English maid, and her sidekick, the Butler (sophomore Nick Huber), who’s as reliable as the always-malfunctioning grand English clock, which repeatedly strikes 17 or 29 or 15 English strokes.

In this world, middle-aged couple Mr. and Mrs. Smith (senior Maxwell Heaton ‘12 and junior Lisa M. Davidson), who are the spitting image of the 1940’s radio couple, the Bickersons, unexpectedly host the young married couple, the Martins (junior Jonathan M. Wagner and sophomore Emily Moore), who seem not to know each other or to be married to one another.

Into their midst arrives the Fire Chief (junior Zach Eser), Mary’s past lover, who’s on official business to douse a fire and, to the thrill of the Smiths and the Martins, to tell a few funny stories.

But the Smith and Martin get-together, while seemingly innocent at first blush, careens toward uncomprehending disaster.

And in that wicked twist at the end lies Ionesco’s equally wicked humor.

“The Bald Soprano” performs for one week only.

“Hay Fever” Opens to Great Reviews and a Good Time

Photo Submitted by Dave Wayne.
Photo Submitted by Dave Wayne.
In the Bliss household, reality is very rarely real. Judith, a recently retired actress, her husband David, and her two children, Sorel and Simon, love to cause, propagate, and react to drama, whether real or not.

When they all inadvertently invite houseguests down for the same weekend, the boxer, the flapper, the diplomat, and the sophisticate are in for quite an eventful weekend. In Noel Coward’s Hay Fever, which opened in the Bruce Davis Theater on October 14, the cast and crew produced a hilarious version of this 1920s comedy of words.

Briana Manente (Judith Bliss) was fabulous as the larger-than-life matriarch. Although she rushed a little towards the beginning, she quickly fell into a fast-paced and witty pace.

Her over-emoting, polished upper class dialect, and impeccable use of exaggerated hand gestures, perfectly portrayed the stereotypical dramatic (even in “reality”) actress.

Lisa M. Davidson was engaging as the bouncy, pouty, and flighty Sorel Bliss. Her skipping conveyed youth and excitement, as did her sudden outbursts at her mother and brother.

Simon too, played by Maxwell Heaton, had excellent comedic timing with dry delivery and a lazy, mildly apathetic physicality and intonation. Tobias Franzen as David Bliss was not upstaged by his dramatic wife or his unique children; instead he held his own with his alternating apparent disinterest and startling, commanding yelling.

The Bliss family together had excellent chemistry as they interacted in their own, self-important world. When they seamlessly slide into a dramatic scene from one of Judith’s plays from their own real argument, the effect is hilarious.

The ensemble in its various forms provided an excellent view into the characters, whether watching Sorel and Judith read a newspaper and giggle together, or Simon and Sorel bickering in the beginning over Sorel’s invited guest.

Rapid witty banter with few pauses in the speech is thoroughly enjoyable and leaves little time for the audience to try to find a deep meaning.

Nick Huber (Sandy Tyrell), Emily Moore (Myra Arundel), Jonathan Wagner (Richard Greatham), and Naomi Garcia (Jackie Coryton) as the four guests, and Suzanna Sample as Clara were all also thoroughly entertaining.

Huber’s puppy-dog innocence and sincerity was endearing and contrasted well with the intensity and drama of the Blisses.

Wagner’s sweetness in dealing with the insanity surrounding him was refreshing, and the shy and simple character of Jackie was demurely played by Garcia. Arundel was highly enjoyable with a constantly sour face and haughty tone.

And Sample captured the character of Judith’s dresser-turned-housekeeper with her clever remarks and knowing responses.

The set reflected the opulence and extravagance of the Bliss family, but did create a few, albeit minor, problems. A grand staircase that twists and flares at the bottom perfectly captures the drama the Bliss family clearly prefers, as did carpets, couches, and a footstool in vibrant patterns.

However, the carpet did trip up the actors a few times and got caught on the bottom of the couches, kinks that didn’t remotely affect the overall performance but could have been slightly annoying to a perfectionist.

Additionally, the hanging backdrop that represented the garden moved as each actor walked by, and slamming doors occasionally shook walls, but except for slightly breaking the realism, the effect was minimal.

Hay Fever will be performing Oct. 21 through 23 at 8 p.m. and 24 at 2 p.m.