Spring 2022 studio productions

Muhlenberg students create an incredible experience for their audiences

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Photo by Johnny Veglia '24 | The set of "Medea", featuring Jordan Lavalle ’25, Hannah Kulbitsky ’24, Olivia Thiemann ’24, Vanessa Graniero ’24, Jolie Lanning ’25, Natalie McElhinny ‘25

A small theatre sits on the bottom floor of the Center of the Arts. The audience sits so close that the squint of an actor’s eyes, under the bright lights, can be seen. This is The Studio Theatre.

On the weekend of Apr. 7 to Apr. 10, The Studio Theatre played host to a set of three fully student-produced shows. The studio shows are student-written, student-directed, student-costumed, student-designed and student-acted. 

At 6:10 p.m. on Apr. 7, the Greek tragedy “Medea” had their opening night. Unfamiliar to many 21st century college students, the cast used sheets and a portable projector to tell the story of Jason and the Argonauts. Jason and his crew pulled their ship onto the shores of Colchis, with a greedy thirst that would not be quenched by blood or gold. This destructive invasion is only the prelude to the horrors of Medea, princess of Colchis, who quickly fell in love with Jason.

Long story short, Jason cheats, Medea plots a revenge that kills everyone, kills Jason’s new wife… and her kids (it’s a tragedy for sure). Alyssa Miles ‘25 reacted to the play, saying, “I thought it was crazy. I thought it was scary, which is really good. Because I feel like that was the point of the show. And they really accomplish that.”

Jordan Lavalle ‘25, who starred in the show as Medea, described her experience, saying, “It was such an awesome experience because you were working together. It wasn’t a standard process. Especially with the type of play that it was, it was a Greek mythology play. I feel [with] those kinds of plays, you have to work together in order to understand the story. It’s not just a straightforward kind of story. You have to explore the characters and the dynamic, as well as the time period, being able to do that with students and people who are learning. It’s a process of growth.”

As an actor or actress, a play like “Medea” can take a real hold within your mind and body. It’s important to detach from the heavy emotions of your performance and not allow your character to infect your everyday life. Olivia Thiemann ‘24, a member of the cast, said, “I like when I get back to my room. I like to kind of have a little bit of a moment of meditation. I have podcasts that I listen to where I can just sit and kind of on my own and take time to not necessarily process everything but to just let it go through the night.” 

“Medea” demonstrated the emotional depth of Muhlenberg actors and creative capabilities of student production teams with director Brayden Stallman ‘23, production stage manager Johnny Veglia ‘24 and assistant stage manager Robin Title ‘25. 

“he fact that I had a team to bounce ideas off of, but also to get ideas from things I never would have thought of myself. That includes the actors who really embodied this thing and fully committed to it.”

-Ally Duvak ’22

Sadly, the second performance, “A Number,” was canceled due to COVID complications. So, audience members who wished to attend “Medea,” “A Number” and “The Scarlet Verse,” on Thursday, took a quick break in between plays. The break allowed for more time in between scene changes and for audience members to grab a snack from GQ.

“The Scarlet Verse” was a mash up of musical greats with themes that were reminiscent of “Newsies,” a dash of “Les Miserables,” a teaspoon of “Oliver” and even a hint of “Jekyll and Hyde.” This recipe of vocals made for a stand out student composition that displayed the vocal, writing and acting chops of all involved. 

For Danny Milkis ‘23, composer and musical director, this performance was an opportunity to realize a four year long dream. Milkis had written and composed the musical for Audio Fringe Festival in 2020. Sadly, this dream fell victim to the pandemic, as did so many others. Now, two years later, “Scarlet Verse” took the stage. What inspired this extremely complex and unique storyline? “I pulled this story from a very, very personal point. I wrote the narrative too. Because I was trying to cope with a tragedy in my own life and self doubt back in my last year of high school.” said Milkis.

Milkis took his own emotional pain and redirected it into crafting a musical that would speak to a large part of the human experience. Milkis says, “I really wanted people to take away that even when someone isn’t physically in your life anymore, that you connected with them on a deeper level. That what they brought into your life is still just as special. That people come into your life and they leave your life for a reason, and like understanding that it’s extremely important.”

The fourth play of the studio productions was “Wake,” written and directed by Ally Duvak ‘22,  a ghost story that shone a new light on the shady corners of a funeral home. Duvak’s play dealt tastefully and poignantly with the theme of suicide and how it’s victims are held in the hearts of their loved ones. The small ensemble cast and thirty-minute play fostered an intimate experience. Once Duvak’s script was in her actors’ hands, they took it and ran, finding the silent moments in between the words and the intonations of every syllable. They captured the grief of suicide, and the incredible power that death has to motivate the living. 

Duvak says, “I really enjoyed this process, and I enjoyed how collaborative it was. The fact that I had a team to bounce ideas off of, but also to get ideas from things I never would have thought of myself. That includes the actors who really embodied this thing and fully committed to it. They gave it such honest care and work that I was really grateful for. It’s an experience that I’m very thankful for and that I will miss dearly.”

A single night at Muhlenberg Studios would move anyone to laughter or tears. All three performances show the beautiful art that can be made by holistic all-student productions.

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