By Alecia Sexton
Master of fine arts students performed a devised play, “Rm: 99, Fl: 13,” on the Little Theater mainstage from Jan. 26-28. The show featured a creative blend of stories that illuminate the dark truth of the American lifestyle, sexism, stigmas, and modern- day struggles. With its opening song ending in the words, “Everyone you know someday will die”, the production first sets a tone of ominous anticipation that makes the audience believe it would turn out to be a horror production based around a murder. However; audiences soon discovered that the play would instead use abstract shadow figures and artistic screenplay to draw attention to the conflicts and struggles that lie beneath ‘The American Dream.”
The production uniquely tied together old and new burdens of our world. Some scenes accentuated the struggles and emotional confusion behind the process of becoming a U.S. citizen. Others brought to light the ridicule, judgment and inhumane treatment of those who don’t conform to society’s black and white standards of sexuality. There were also moments that drew attention to the emotional despair of housewives in America’s earlier years who were to be prim, proper, and presentable for their neurotic and unstable husbands. While the ideas presented in the play were well-received, the production style was interpretive and conceptual, allowing for viewers to conceive various perceptions of its symbolic meaning.
“We started the production in class by thinking about things that inspire us and things that light up our imagination as artists,” Brady Ness, a second-year MFA student, said. “We really just brought a whole bunch of things into the room initially and then started finding themes and structures that we could put all of our ideas into.” The production was inspired by issues the actors deal with individually as well as ones that affect them culturally.
“Although this is something like [my] 40th show, it’s the first piece that I’ve written, directed and performed in… the experience is always very exciting to see your work go from page to stage,” Kayleigh Jacobs, a second year MFA student, said.
In regards to the title, “One day in class, someone said Rm: 99, Fl-13, and we just found it interesting and made it into a place where anything could happen, a place where any number of stories could be told,” Ness said.
The four students enrolled in the course, Ness, Mary Aalbue, Kayleigh Jacobs, and Chamila Priyanka, all worked together to write, direct, produce, and perform the show. “[We] gave each others work an outside eye, making the show a total collaborative effort,” Ness said.
“We started with literally nothing for this show,” Jacobs said. “And since each of us is a very different artist, we needed to find a way to make our work intersect each other.”
Since none of the students are traditional playwrights, the hardest part of putting the show together was generating material to compose the script. “Putting something together where there was nothing was definitely tough,” Ness said, “But all of it was worth it when things really started coming together into something that looked like a production.”
The show came together after the four actors conducted a survey. One of the questions included was: “What is a recurring dream or nightmare that you have?” According to Jacobs, they found many similarities in people’s responses. “[It] got us thinking, ‘What are our nightmares and how do they intersect our lives?’” Jacobs said.
Putting aside all the abstract displays and interpretive screenplay, the show closed with a simple line many people may benefit to live by: “Don’t take yourself too seriously… cause’ in the end, we’re all going to return to the same cosmic nothingness, so why not fill the void with light, laughter and love?”