Altercations with Anxiety: staging grief, loss, and acceptance

Photo Courtesy of Arielle Waxman

A step, a leap, a chance, or simply a choice — all of these factors vary and warp when considering ‘the future.’  We as college students, often ask ourselves about where our futures may lead us, constantly questioning our actions and even our own identities; we essentially embody the unknown.

Nothing epitomizes this more than the New Visions play “How I Wonder.”  Written by Muhlenberg alumni Kate O’Donoghue ‘17 and Ashley Malafronte ‘17,  the piece takes a dive into the constant state of anxiety and apprehensiveness that is ‘the future.’ To continue this theme of anxiety, actor Sam Thompson ‘19 discusses the innate power that the script of “How I Wonder” has, specifically over the actors themselves.

“…Dealing with familial loss…family dynamics, your role in your own life, as well as…how to deal with your family as you grow older [are main themes in this show]. …We, as a cast, but also people coming to see the show, will [hopefully] see a new idea [about loss] that…they haven’t thought of.”

He continues:

“The student writers did such an excellent job with the writing that our work as actors has been much easier. [I hope] that we can take their story and turn it into…something close to the hours they put into it.”

I asked Sam to further elaborate on this idea of the writing and its affect on the actors:

“My favorite part has just been each day…building upon our warm ups, the physical side of it, and how we can trigger our bodies…that we demand for the story…If I, myself, could even put [in] a quarter of my time that Ashley and Kate have, I’d hope that I could highlight my part of the story.”

Photo Courtesy of Arielle Waxman

It is this theme, “part of the story,” that is emphasized throughout “How I Wonder,” as well as extended to the audience’s own potential contribution. Director Drew Maidment ‘18 discusses a second aspect of the play involving the part of ‘loss’ and hardship.

“People should definitely come because supporting student work is really important; this work was written by students, directed by students, performed by students, [and] designed by students and it’s a great opportunity to see how student collaborators work on this campus and what the theater program offers for that sort of thing.”

Drew continues on the theme of loss that serves as a recurring element throughout the play:

“…The play itself deals with grief…how to deal with loss, and how do we move forward in our lives, as in, what our futures are going to entail.  College students can specifically connect with this idea, that the future is completely unknown — and the space that we are in right now is only that space for a limited [amount] of time.  And afterwards, we don’t know what’s going to happen. So, we try to find different ways in coping with our grief, in coping with change, in coping with loss…‘How I Wonder’ is about how we do that [and] if it’s possible to maintain that sense of wonder and sense of hope. Even when the horrible things happen.”

Another aspect of the play that is particularly interesting is the naming of the characters.  The names are “Father,” “Mother,” “Girl” and “Boyfriend” — roles that are not only embodied by the actors, but also up to the audience’s interpretation.  This is further discussed by actor Rae Wessel ‘19:

“It’s very interesting because…it’s easier to relate to this play than other plays, I think.  I think it brings up many difficult topics that would be great to spark conversation, or would be great just to…have someone else express for you.”

Photo Courtesy of Arielle Waxman

Rae further discusses the concept of the writing style mentioned by Sam earlier:

“I would definitely agree [that the writers did an excellent job], just because the play is set in realism, so I can talk in this play how I would talk in day to day life.  So…the speech is easy, and it was very quick to understand it, and I think that most of the lines have so much written underneath them [that] they almost mean something different…it’s very symbolic of what we’re saying.  And so I think that the writing really aids me and my acting because it’s very easy for me to understand [my character] ‘Girl’ even though she is just this cookie cutter of a person…I could make her my own, but the writing aided me in that way.”

Being able to witness just a snippet of this production was truly an honor, and I highly look forward to seeing it in its final stages.  “How I Wonder” seems to express what many college students, as well as various other individuals, feel and ponder over.  Yet, with the combination of writing, acting, and production in general, we have an living art of anxiety — anxiety of the future, of the unknown, of making a choice, and, most importantly, of making the first step.


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