theater

Monologues, Memories, and Meaning: An Actor Reflects on Her Last Meridian Production

By 12th grader Piper

“This play is called Our Town. It was written by Thornton Wilder, produced by Meridian Academy, and directed by Catherine Epstein. In it, you will see a number of fantastic actors. The name of this town is Grover’s Corners, just off the Massachusetts line: longitude 42 degrees 40 minutes; latitude 70 degrees 37 minutes...”

Those were, more or less, the first words I spoke when I walked onstage as the Stage Manager in this fall’s production of Our Town. I expected to forget all of my lines within the first week after the closing night of the production. Now, I think they are going to be with me for much longer.

I have always adored Meridian’s theater program, known as PAA – or Performing Arts and Activism – because Meridian loves acronyms. I had planned to audition for this play because it would be my last chance to get directed by Catherine before I graduated, and I felt like I was in need of many more theater memories with her. In the end, I got that and so much more.

We had a relatively small cast, so a lot of the actors played more than one part. I was cast as the Stage Manager, who was effectively god, and Simon Stimson, the town choir director who also seems to suffer from depression and alcoholism. I was excited about portraying Simon, but less enthusiastic about memorizing so many pages of monologues for the Stage Manager. However, the longer the process went on, the more I enjoyed playing the Stage Manager, and the more I came to love and appreciate all of my fellow actors. From the rehearsals with countless inside jokes scattered through them — George Gibbs mentioning agriculture school for the billionth time, Mrs. Webb insisting her daughter was “pretty enough for all normal purposes,” and many other references I couldn’t name without making this blog post entirely too long — there was so much we bonded over and so many memories we created.

This play was also hard. It taxed me emotionally and I was exhausted by the end of it, and I wasn’t the only one. My fellow actors poured so much time and energy into this production, and it truly paid off in our performances. I’m proud of each and every one of us, and I keep thinking that I couldn’t have imagined Meridian’s Our Town with any other group.

The small size of our cast meant that we all had a lot to carry, and each of my castmates brought something singular to this production. From Nadia’s emotionally raw performance as Emily; to Mary Alice’s infectious energy; to Grace P.’s wonderfully sweet George; to Mara’s curious Rebecca; to Maya’s caring Mrs. Gibbs (even while dead, one could argue); to Juanzi’s wise Mr. Webb, who prevailed in the face of awkwardness; to Nina’s Mrs. Soames, who loved to gossip; to Ezra’s Wally, who was smart about his stamp collection; to Phoebe’s hardworking Howie, deliverin’ that milk; to last but certainly not least, Tempest’s no-nonsense Doc Gibbs. I list all of these actors because without each individual, this play would not have been what it was.

I’m so thankful to have been a part of this production. PAA has always been an important part of Meridian for me, and it’s arguably one of the main reasons I came to the school in the first place. By this point – my senior year – I’ve acted with a lot of the theater community at Meridian, some of whom I joined again in this production, and I’ve grown alongside them throughout that time. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to finish my time as an actor at Meridian.

This production meant so much to me, and I cannot express enough how thankful I am to have experienced it with each of my fellow actors. Thank you all for being the folks who showed up. This really was our town.

Toil and Trouble: A Student Reflects on Playing Macbeth

By 12th grader Naomi

Having only done theater at Meridian twice before, I never thought that I would play a role as difficult as Macbeth. When I auditioned for the play, it was for practical reasons. Because I’m a senior, this year was my last chance to act in any Meridian productions, but the main purpose of my auditioning was to gain experience. I planned to direct the spring play, and I felt that the only way to be a good director was to know how it feels to be directed by someone else. And so, I went into auditions for Macbeth feeling perfectly at peace with any role I might get, no matter how small. When the casting was posted the following week, I realized that I had been given a role with tremendous responsibility.

With a line count in the upper 600s and a presence in all five acts, Macbeth was a technically daunting character. The number of lines was especially intimidating for me, and I spent many long nights learning them. At the time, it was beyond me how someone could memorize that many words. I had to approach the play in tiny bits, slowly piecing together each phrase and monologue until it finally came together in my head after months of practice.

Macbeth was also an emotionally taxing character to play. I had never before portrayed someone descending into a guilt-driven madness fueled by ambition. I had to work myself into hallucinatory frenzies, furious rages, tearful frustration, and a frightened delirium. After the opening performance I was completely drained, and I actually found myself crying a bit from exhaustion in the car.

“How can professional actors do this night after night for a month?” I asked myself. But the second night was much easier than the first. My head was clearer, and I felt less mentally exhausted afterwards. From this, I realized that to perform as an actor requires not a synthesis of false emotion, but a channeling of one’s own emotion into one’s character, as well as acclimating to playing them in front of an audience. Once I reached this point of comfort and openness, I felt both love and triumph towards a character that had at one point seemed impossible to play.

I went into Macbeth expecting to learn how to direct, which I certainly did. Working with Catherine and Nathan was an invaluable experience, and I gained a great deal of knowledge that will help me as I direct the spring play. What I had not anticipated was that I would learn so much about being an actor – and, despite the challenging nature of my character, I had a great time doing so! This is what truly made the production process so wonderful for me, and I am extremely grateful that I was able to participate.

Division 4 Explores the Vietnam War's Legacy at "Memorial"

By Division I Media & Journalism reporter Ibrahim

On Thursday, October 20, the Division 4 Humanities students went to see a play called “Memorial” at Boston Playwrights' Theatre. Division 4 is learning about the Vietnam War this trimester, and this play had to do with the design, construction, and debate surrounding the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The play was about a young woman named Maya Lin who won a competition to make the memorial. However, there was a lot of controversy from veterans and others because Maya was Chinese-American -- making some associate her, simply on sight, with Vietnamese people. Others thought that her design did not respectfully honor the sacrifice of veterans. Lin fought to get her memorial up, until a compromise was made and Lin had to include, next to her memorial, another memorial approved by veterans. This play was based off a real story. Theo, a Division 4 student who went to play, said, “I thought that the play was an interesting take on that piece of history, and it raised the question: ‘Who was the memorial built for, the veterans or the general public?’”

Director Dispatches Part One: Auditions & First Rehearsals

This post is by Meridian senior Yvonne, who will document her experience as a student director over the next several months.

Meridian’s plays have consisted of tragedies, romances, comedies, and political dramas, but I wanted to direct something that we’d never done before. I mean, I love suspenseful and thrilling stories, so I was confident that I wanted to direct a murder mystery.

I had a few scripts to choose from, such as The Bold, the Young, and the Murdered by Don Zolidis, The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940 by John Bishop, and Arsenic and Old Lace by Joseph Kesselring. Some plays were more comedic than they were suspenseful, others had a concerningly small list of characters, and some just didn’t click. However, there was one script that pulled me into its story. Making the set for this play, making scenes suspenseful and engaging, adding the right elements of comedy, choreographing physical scenes, and directing actors in general will be challenges for me. I thought, If I put on this play, I think I’d be proud of myself. Meridian’s 2016 spring play will be Witness for the Prosecution by Agatha Christie.

At auditions, it was awesome to see both middle and high school students showing interest in the production, and they were even more exciting because every actor is so gifted and passionate. There were students who have never been in theatre before, but showed that they had great capabilities. My initial fears around directing were pushed aside, because this was a chance to work with Meridian’s talented and supportive actors. How could I be afraid of that?

Last Thursday, the actors finished their first read-through of the play. They seemed just as, or even more, excited about the script as I was. And ultimately, I think, the more excited a group of actors are about their play, the stronger their play will be. It’s such a privilege to work with these students, and to work behind the scenes with Humanities teachers Catherine and Nathan, and with my friends Emmanuel, Sabina, and Haben, who will be helping me direct whenever they have a chance.

I’m getting a good feeling from all of this. There are so many exciting things happening right now. Even though things will be challenging in the moment, I think they will be worth it.

Jazz is the Ultimate Team Sport: Students Design Music for the Fall Play

Since she began work as a music teacher at Meridian, almost every theater production at the school has featured some element of Laura Jaye’s work. A few highlights include the fairy lullaby she wrote for A Midsummer Night’s Dream; the creepy Puritan-era hymns she arranged in harmony for The Crucible; Artemis in the Parking Lot, a musical she co-wrote with Misha Chowdhury; and a long-form jingle she arranged for the Italian farce The Servant of Two Masters.

This fall, Laura’s involvement reached new heights with Tony Kushner’s A Bright Room Called Day. The play takes place in Berlin during the early 1930s, and Laura said she felt inspired by Kushner’s emphasis on music. The script specifically calls for standards like “Memories of You” along with Bach’s Unaccompanied Violin Concerto in G Minor and Mahler’s Second Symphony, The Resurrection. “Music was clearly an important part of the play for Kushner,” she said, describing the potential she saw in these diverse references. “I could imagine a production where they just used recorded music,” she explained, “but I knew at Meridian we had the talent and resources to take it to” — here she adopted a Terminator-esque voice — “the next level.”

That next level took the shape of a weekly music class devoted to designing and performing music for the play. Students read the script and studied jazz standards from 1930 and 1931, specifically focusing on music that the characters would already know. They held music production meetings to identify the play’s dramatic arc and worked together to create a parallel arc with music. After selecting songs, the students practiced and practiced and practiced. “Because of all of the improvisation involved in jazz,” Laura said, “the only way to stay tight in performance is to play together a lot and learn each other’s style.”

The class — led by Laura and comprised of 10th and 11th grade students Jacob, Luke, Max, and Naomi — included jazz guitar, mandolin, violin, percussion, bass, and vocals. The band played as the audience took their seats, performed the songs — including those Bach and Mahler pieces — that Kushner called for, and also served as a live musical soundtrack that the actors controlled onstage. With the turn of the knob on an old radio positioned in front of the band, the musicians came to life, changing songs and volume as characters adjusted the switches. The effect was both lively and mesmerizing.

Many audience members described the invaluable presence of the band in the production, and Laura knows that the experience also had a meaningful impact on the student musicians. Following this experience, she said, “they can all sit down and play a standard together. They’re not scared of jazz. They’ve cultivated an appreciation of that music and how cool it is to make it up on the spot.” In addition, the band fostered a deep and trusting collaboration. “You need to know that others are supporting you when you’re improvising, and vice versa,” Laura explained. “Jazz is the ultimate team sport.”

While Laura created the jazz class specifically to support A Bright Room Called Day, she aspires for musicians to be just as deeply involved in future plays. As it turns out, she’s not the only one looking ahead. Before the production had completed, several of the musicians turned to Laura and asked, “What’s the show next year?”

Meridian's First Student-Directed Play

Students have always been a major part of generating Meridian's theater productions, but this year two seniors, Juliette and Lili, took on the direction of our spring play. They chose John Cariani's Almost, Maine, which features an intrepid and awkward group of small-town characters who grapple with love and heartache over the course of just one night. Juliette and Lili were immediately drawn to the play's awkward charm when they read it aloud together, and directing proved to be a wonderful and rewarding challenge. As they wrote in the program, "We struggled at first to think of ourselves as authority figures, and had to learn quickly to assert ourselves and establish our vision for the show. Our cast has done an amazing job of sticking with us, and their patience and hard work played a huge role in getting this show off the ground. We cannot thank them enough for giving us this opportunity, and for making our final show at Meridian such an incredibly rewarding experience." 

Congratulations on a fantastic production, Juliette and Lili!