The evolution of creativity from a playwright, director, and storyteller’s perspective

A focus on Ally Duvak’s piece, “Wake”

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From left to right: Leanna Niesen ’24, Ally Duvak ’22, Olivia Thiemann ’24, Evelyn Carlin ’24, and Alison Rutyna ‘23 // Photo courtesy of Ally Duvak '22

When she initially wrote “Wake,” Ally Duvak ‘22 didn’t expect it to get nearly as far as it did. “The idea sort of abruptly came to me when I was in Advanced Playwriting this time last year. I liked it enough that I decided to try it out in the Red Doors. After that, I decided to gamble and apply for Studios and was very pleasantly surprised when they accepted it.” 

The piece is now headlining one of the four Muhlenberg Theatre Association (MTA) Studio productions this spring. The piece was developed during her coursework here at ‘Berg and it continues to develop with each new performance. Duvak declared, “So it’s been through many rounds of drafts, rewriting and workshopping. Now it’s a little more expansive than it used to be and I’m really excited to see what form it takes with the whole technical team behind it.”

“I feel like in Red Doors, our cast was able to help collaborate and help build these characters as the script was still developing and we’re still in that process.”

– Leanna Niesen ’24

The Red Door Play Festival is a wonderful opportunity for students to showcase their plays and directing skills, but the space is limited to the Red Door Cafe. For “Wake” and other Red Door pieces, the sound and lighting were operated by the stage manager for the piece, and a budget of $75 was utilized to gather props. Leanna Niesen ‘24 worked on the piece as the stage manager and will continue with the play’s transition to the Studio Theatre. Niesen commented about the Play Festival saying, “There is something so special about being a part of a process that is so collaborative. I feel like in Red Doors, our cast was able to help collaborate and help build these characters as the script was still developing and we’re still in that process.”

Duvak stated, “I’m really excited for a bigger audience to be able to see the show. … I’m really excited to play with the technical aspects of that, that I’ve never been able to really tinker with before, and just get this story and its message out to a broader audience about, especially in this day and age, what’s worth saying while you have the time to say it.”

The Studio Theatre is filled with a full lighting and soundboard along with the traditional components of a theatrical space. Designers will work on the show and help to bring the three-person play to life and capture the essence of this unique ghost story. 

Something different about the Studios experience this season is the adaptation to the concerns related to the omicron variant. Although performances will be in person, auditions this time around have been through video submission. Actors had to record themselves performing monologues allowing them the opportunity to film multiple attempts if one didn’t turn out that well or for the director to rewatch auditions in order to truly evaluate someone’s performance.

“I couldn’t ask them to do it a different way. I couldn’t read sides with people, I couldn’t really do that impromptu in-the-room stuff that we used to be able to do. But I could watch people’s videos multiple times, reflect back and play people next to each other and see if I thought they would work well together. It’s not the same as being able to call people back and have them read together, but it worked in its own way,” Duvak continued.

As the saying goes, ‘write what you know,’ and that’s something Duvak took to heart while crafting “Wake.” She took inspiration from all aspects of her life for the show, incorporating even the tiniest details drawn from memories of her friends and family. For Duvak, her piece is interwoven with emotions, both present and past, and histories of relationships.

“Loss is at the heart of the story, sure, but there’s gratitude, too, as these friends reflect on the importance of what they had.”

– Ally Duvak ’22

“As far as inspiration goes, this was definitely inspired by real life events for me. Unfortunately, the story was in part brought about by real losses that I experienced – both in the forms of loved ones passing away but also in longtime friendships fading … I think that all of the characters have a piece of me in their onstage representation,” stated Duvak. 

The work of the play will continue to develop with a whole new cast for the upcoming production in April. Rehearsals for the piece begin tonight, Feb. 3, and Duvak will bring her personal stories to life. Performing this piece will allow for the deep emotions and experiences of Duvak to resonate with audiences. The Studios space will also allow for the haunting presence of loss and grief to manifest in new dimensions, while also leaving audiences with some positive emotions too.

“I’d say it’s really inspired by the moment during a funeral where … you start joking around about the person you lost. … Loss is at the heart of the story, sure, but there’s gratitude, too, as these friends reflect on the importance of what they had. My hope is not to have people crying the whole time. I want them to laugh, to think fondly of the people they’ve lost, and to remember the importance of telling the people they have that they love them while they still have the chance.”

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