Saint Mike's theater students put plenty of large and small-scale shows on throughout the academic year. Unfortunately I hadn’t seen any so far, until a week ago Friday.
The show, APPetite, was an original "devised" piece of theater, and it explored the modern obsession with technology. In it, after having come back from studying abroad in Italy, the main female character struggles to reconnect with her sister and friends who seem to be enslaved by their iPhones, deals with her uncooperative boyfriend, and eventually is driven to try to find love in a robot. The show is audience interactive, where at one point audience members can text questions to a character on stage. The plot was well developed, the characters were interesting, and the content led one to reflect on one's own relationship with technology. I, for example, having recently gotten an iPhone, would struggle if for some reason I suddenly didn't have it, and seeing this show made me consider what my own appropriate balance with technology should be.
I was so impressed with the show that this past week I sought out an interview with two of the show’s participants, Liz and Amanda (it’s their senior seminar), and we had the opportunity to talk this past Friday during the Undergraduate Research Symposium.
We sat down in a row of chairs off to the side so I could record the interview on my phone (ironic?), and I began by asking what the inspiration was behind the piece, and what made them decide to do a show on technology:
Amanda: "Well it was really our director Kathy's idea. She wanted to do a show about technology, a devised piece; and... do you know what devised theater is? (I did) You do? Ok. So basically we started meeting back in September with the whole cast and all we had was one idea to go off of and we just started shooting off ideas and we had lists and lists of different plot lines, of different ways in which technology influences our lives; and it kind of all just stemmed from this one idea, and we picked some things that we thought people could relate to as well as some new things about technology that would interest people as well.”
I then asked Liz about her own character in the show (the sister of Amanda’s character), who was iPhone addicted because of her fast-paced career in the technology business, and did portraying that character make her reflect on how she used technology in her own life:
Liz: “Absolutely, and something Kathy really wanted to get across were the positive aspects of technology as well as the negative, and I think I've definitely discovered in my own life how negatively I use technology, I mean, I'm kind of glued to it all the time.” (I indicated a similar sentiment)
When I told them that the show had led me to think about how I used technology in my own life, they were pleased because that was one of their clear objectives. And it was a long, arduous process; at one point they had to cut a chunk of the cast because the show was growing too large and lacked direction, they said. They didn’t enjoy cutting people, but some left voluntarily which made it a little less painful.
Another obstacle Liz and Amanda faced was, since it was their senior seminar, having to shape and concentrate on other characters in the show while still working on their own. “There was a lot of tears and frustration,” they agreed. And the show went through a lot of transformation. “Amanda’s character was a drug addict at one point,” Liz said, laughing.
And because of the nature of the piece, they had the opportunity to integrate experiences from their own lives into the show. For example, Amanda’s character studied abroad in Italy, and so did she. “All the pictures [in the show] were real,” she said; and when her character in the show is experiencing a post-study abroad withdrawal, she took that from her own life.
Like Liz mentioned earlier, though, the show was intended to highlight the positive aspects of technology as well as the negative. In APPetite, Amanda was able to stay connected with her friends from study abroad via skype, and everyone in the show was connected in some positive way via technology. So the show begs the question of moderation; because yes, it’s cool that you can order joke books online to impress girls, but it becomes consuming when getting things or doing things online are the only ways you can impress girls.
Before we ended the interview, I asked Liz and Amanda if they had any advice for incoming theater majors. They agreed that the best way to start as a freshman is to be willing to “start from scratch”, because acting in college is a whole new ball game. “You might come into your freshman year after having gotten leads as a senior in high school, but that may not happen your first year of college,” they said. But they encouraged incoming students to get involved in any way possible, because the department has tons of opportunity to do so; whether they’re on the main stage or a smaller venue, and the department is always willing to support a pitch for smaller shows. Also, they said, be willing to just listen and learn, because that's the best way to learn and grow in the theater.
APPetite ran 11-14, 18-21 of April, 2012.
Photo credit goes to Keelia Liptak (Thanks Keelia!). Also, check out these blog posts from Keelia (who designed lighting for the show) and Brendan (another participant):
APPetite: SMC Spring Mainstage
Lighting Design for Appetite
New Play: APPetite in Rehearsal!
APPetite: A Saint Michael's Production
Thanks for reading!