By: Gillian Reinhard ‘16
The Cheshire Academy Varsity Players are known for their creative and innovative performances, ranging from musicals to Shakespeare to dramas. Like last spring, when the student actors tackled the hilarious piece “Bone Chiller,” the Varsity Players are once again perfecting their comedy techniques and preparing to make Cheshire Academy laugh. On May 20 and May 21, audiences watched “Comedy Tonight,” a collection of original and funny skits. However, the short scenes may not have been familiar to even the most well-read theater fan, because they are written by some of CA’s local playwrights!
The Center for Writing, in cooperation with the Fine & Performing Arts Department, recently hosted a contest to see which students and faculty could create the most entertaining comedic skits at least ten minutes in length. Clearly, this was no easy feat and the result were some very humorous stories. The winners of the competition, who had their work performed in the Black Box Theater, are: Ms. West, Mr. Porter, Elle Hui ‘16, Maddy Lanni ‘17, David Mathisson ‘18, Mazie Lebowitz ‘19, Sela Wiley ‘19 and Josh Waters ‘19.
“Writing my skit was different from many of my other writing experiences,” explains Mathisson. “This skit was all I wrote for ten days, and I devoted untold hours to it. Thanks to the theater department, I am able to direct my own skit. I have a great co-director and a set of talented actors. It’s been a truly unique opportunity to get to see my work come to life on a stage.” Actress Zola Marracino ‘18 adds, “It’s interesting working with material written by my peers. I like being able to build my characters off of the stories because they are more open to interpretation than characters in traditional scripts.”
From directing to acting to artistic work, the production was student-run with some immense help from Ms. Monahan and Ms. Guarino. “It’s a fun show and it’s so cool to see the students do so much of the work. It’s definitely different to see the students take the lead and have Ms. Guarino and I step in just for backup,” remarks Ms. Monahan. “I like getting the chance to direct,” said Samantha Weed ‘18. “I’m usually on stage, so I like looking at the show from this side of things.”
“Comedy Tonight” shaped up to a hilarious show. Both performances were met with peals of laughter. “I’m not funny in real life, so it’s great to be funny in the show,” commented Lexi Williamson ‘18. “Comedy Tonight” was performed in the Black Box Theater on May 20 and May 21.
An Interview With Ms. West- Writer of One of Comedy Tonight’s Skits
One of winners of the Center for Writing’s comedy contest was Roxbury instructor and SAT prep teacher Ms. West. Her skit is entitled “9 and 50 Swans” and involves puppeteering and actors in Alien masks. In an interview with West, she discusses her comedy choices and writing process.
West: A long time ago I read a scientific article explaining that DNA analysis of swan offspring revealed that swans, which had previously been regarded as monogamous, were in fact not monogamous. This led me to imagine the reaction of the researcher who first discovered this.
Q: What led you to turn this idea into a comedy skit?
W: When I heard about the comedy skit contest at CA, I thought about developing this idea further. I began crafting a script. I had a phone call workshop with Ms. Swift to help explain the general outline for my script. This workshop was encouraging and helped motivate me to commit my script to paper. I knew I wanted there to be layers of parallelism in which the humans’ interactions mimicked those of the swans.
Q: What was your purpose?
W: I recently completed a Master’s Degree in the Teaching of English at Columbia’s Teachers College. Teachers College believes that art is an important part of the human experience that helps us learn to embrace ambiguity, imagine possibilities, and explore our cultural values.
One of my professors, Sheridan Blau, often said that art is valuable because it defamiliarizes experience in order to slow down your perception.
I view art as a medium through which we can examine and potentially reaffirm our commitment to certain values and beliefs. To me, that’s what this play achieves on a modest scale. It explores the complexities of monogamy through a humorous lens, and, in the end, affirms the values of fidelity and commitment.
Here are quotes from Columbia Teachers College publications on this topic of the value of Aesthetic Education: “An Aesthetic education is a way of regaining touch with the process of learning something new, of being introduced to a medium never known in a particular way before. It is the incorporation of the arts across the curriculum in a way that fosters a heightened awareness of and appreciation for all that touches our lives.”
Q: What’s with the title?
W: The title is an allusion to one of my favorite poems “The Wild Swans at Coole” by William Butler Yeats. I first read that poem in my Introduction to Literary Studies course as a freshman at Trinity College.