Joy. Disgust. Happiness. Sadness. Rage. Frustration. All those words and more are the way we as humans organize our feelings, our emotions. We place emotions in neat little boxes, acknowledging them without letting them rule our mind. But that last statement is not exactly true. That pull of emotions on the human psyche is what Colby Harrison ’17 decided to study in his senior Theater thesis by directing Mick Gordon and Paul Broks’ play, On Emotion.
Taking a bold leap, Harrison chose to direct a non-stereotypical theatrical piece for this senior thesis. In his playbill, the director educates his audience on the premise of the play. He writes, “[t]he authors of On Emotion, Mick Gordon, a playwright, and Paul Broks, a neuropsychologist, have called this work a ‘theater essay’ rather than a play.” Yes, the intention of the production is to entertain the audience like any other play might. However, in this instance, the aim is for this “theater essay” to prove a point and persuade, much like an analytical paper.
The play pushes the watcher to think about one vital question: are we controlled by our emotions?
In order to make sure the audience gives enough gravity of thought to this central question, the playwrights pull no punches. There are explicit themes, foul language, a puppet, and projections to help the audience adequately grapple with the question.
Walking to Gannett Theater, any audience member would be immediately struck by the stark white set. But that whiteness is necessary for the stage to become a screen for projections that help deepen the meaning behind the spoken words.
The four-person cast – Eva Goldstein ’18, Ceria Kurtz ’19, Fergus Scott ’17, and Jack Willis ’19 – all play off the projections. Doing an emotional show such as this, the actors have to give a lot of themselves for the sake of each performance. Scott notes that in order to get rid of pre-production jitters “I make sure my script, costumes, and props are all in exactly the right place and then do a bunch of really loud vocal warm ups to get some of the excess energy out before really tuning in and calming down to get in character.” That routine lets him get into a headspace where he can adequately guide the viewers through the show.
It is one thing to know intuitively what disgust looks like, but sitting in the audience staring at projection of Kurtz’s revolted face throughout a scene makes the audience member actively confront that feeling for the duration of the scene.
The puppet was one of the only props used in the show. A puppet, a life-like model of a person, is a great way for people to understand emotion even if they cannot feel it themselves.
From the house-side, the production looked like it ran effortlessly. Each light cue was timed to perfection and every entrance was timely. However, as any person who has participated in theater knows, nothing happens without the stage manager.
In this case, Rebecca Berger ’19 smoothly ran the show. In an interview, Berger remarks, “I really like the responsibility of stage managing, of balancing the actors and the technical aspects of the production. I enjoy being part of the process and stage management is a very hands on way to get involved.”
The director, stage manager, lighting design, and costume designer, to name a few, work behind the scenes but are essential to any show. Berger notes, “the design of the lighting, projection, and sound in this show all took a lot of time and energy but part of the magic or mystery of theater is all it all seems effortless. Behind the curtain, though, there are a lot of talented people created the tech to help create the world of the play.”
We as audience members cannot forget the pieces it takes to put together a show such as this. With all the moving pieces fitting together perfectly, the audience was able to grapple with the main question, and maybe emerge from the 75-minute play with some semblance of an answer.
Goldstein ’18, Kurtz ’19, and Willis ’19
perform on the screen-like set.
JAMES MACDONALD/THE BATES STUDENT