Production experience is something required of theatre arts majors during their time at Hamline, which can entail becoming the director of a show. Students who take this path for their senior project can choose to adapt a previous work or create an original piece. Two student directed performances will take place for the spring semester: “An Evening of Gender F*ckery” by senior MJ Luna and “Over and Out” by senior Bridget Benson.
“An Evening of Gender F*ckery” is an exploration of how living in a gendered world affects us all, the inspiration for which Luna explained has been brewing for some time.
“I guess I started first conceptualizing it the end of my sophomore year. I didn’t think it was going to be my senior project. It was like a vague idea for a possible show that I would want to create with some friends,” Luna said.
“Over and Out” seeks to demystify the politics of the body. Benson elaborated that the idea originally began with an earlier research project.
“This show has actually been a year in the making. This started last year when I applied for the summer collaborative undergraduate research grant. I wrote a proposal for it and got accepted into the program. And so last summer I took 10 weeks to research my driving question, ‘how do Eurocentric beauty standards impact the body?’” Benson said.
For some theatre arts majors, crafting a senior project can be their first time in the role of director. Luna talked about how the experience has been unique, despite his extensive history in theatre.
“I also stage manage [which is] also in charge of a whole production, but from more of a logistical, technical standpoint than a creative standpoint. It’s definitely been interesting to realize I have full creative control,” Luna said. “Obviously it’s an ensemble piece and I really wanted to make sure that the full cast was able to get their ideas across…but I can just tell you what I want and nobody has to okay it.”
Student directors also conduct the casting for their pieces, with auditions being held for student performers.
“We [Luna and Benson] had joint auditions together, neither of us had a true cast size we wanted,” Luna said. “We knew we probably didn’t want to go over like six or seven [people], just because once you get larger than that it gets harder to manage. In the scope of our senior projects we didn’t want it to turn into something we couldn’t handle.”
Benson explained that the intent behind “Over and Out” was to create an ethnodrama—a form of theatre that dramatizes data from interviews and observations—combining social science research with scriptwriting.
“And so I interviewed about a dozen folks who identified [with] bodies that fit outside of Eurocentric beauty standards. So queer bodies, fat bodies, people of color, disabled bodies, Jewish bodies. Basically people who live in bodies that aren’t seen as conventionally beautiful by standards and the overwhelming majority of people felt like [that] had an impact on their bodies that was at least daily,” Benson said.
Luna elaborated that the inspiration behind his project has been brewing for some time and his experiences outside of theatre have helped it come to fruition.
“Throughout my junior year, I was like ‘oh, I could turn this into a senior project,’ because it kinda mixes my two majors together. I’m a theatre arts major and a social justice major, with my social justice concentration in queer studies,” Luna said. “So I have read a lot about things related to gender and being in society as a gendered person. I was just like this could be a very cool, funky thing.”
Due to the incorporation of his studies on gender theory in “An Evening of Gender F*ckery,” Luna explained that rehearsals for his team have also involved lots of learning and discussion.
“Theory is hard enough, gender theory, especially early gender theory…is very dense and very jargonistic. They did a really, really good job with it, I was impressed. We had some really awesome conversations touching on truth versus reality, being in a gendered world and also how that intersects with other forms of identity,” Luna said.
Benson also mentioned wanting to avoid writing for other marginalized groups, and specifically stated the way she got her actors involved in the conceptualizing process.
“One of the reasons why I didn’t write a play going into it—which was my original intention—was that I realized that due to the content of the show, it was fairly unethical for me to write for other people’s bodies,” Benson said. “So the first week of rehearsals was just brainstorming, and just talking about the content and the things that we wanted to talk about in the show. I bought people journals and each day I gave them journal prompts.”
The timeline for the senior projects this semester is short, beginning as students return from break at the end of January and finishing with performances at the end of this month. Luna spoke about the pressure of these time constraints, but also the benefits.
“The spring semester in the theatre department…we have a week, sometimes less than, between turnarounds for shows. Bridget and I were kind of the ones right out the gate like you’re gonna do your thing, and you’re gonna do it fast and you’re gonna be the first ones to do it,” Luna said. “I think it kind of helped the process that it was so short. [It] kind of forced people into like ‘you don’t have a lot of time to sit around and question your ideas’…they’re like ‘nope, we’re making this happen, because guess what? In less than two weeks, we perform.’ It’s been a very fun process.”
Benson talked about the process of creating the content of the show through a collaborative process rather than a singular artistic vision.
“We started it in…January and we’re doing something called [de]vised theater where devised theater is creating theatre from the ground up during the rehearsal process rather than starting with a pre-established script,” said Benson.
The student directors are not alone, as theatre requires a team effort even from those in the leading roles. Luna has worked closely with friend and fellow senior Donald Birttnen.
“I have an awesome team. I have an awesome partner in crime in this, my stage manager is my good friend Donald. He’s been really dope in this whole process of translating my wild and insane gibberish art into things other people can understand,” Luna said.
Benson had high praise for her collaborators, mentioning how the cast took many steps to take care of each other while exploring the production’s central question.
“And I really couldn’t have done it without my stage manager, Wren Heiman, they’re a first year and they’re absolutely incredible, and the cast is wonderful too,” Benson said.
Hamline’s theatre department will present the “Experimental Process Series” on February 25 and 26 at 7:30 p.m., which features “An Evening of Gender F*ckery” by Luna and “Over and Out” by Benson. Tickets can be reserved by emailing email@example.com. Audience members are expected to follow Hamline’s current COVID-19 protocols which includes wearing a mask and providing proof of vaccination.