Campus News

The world premiere of a Bethel original play: ‘Like Watchmen’

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When you think of different theatrical plays or musicals you enjoy watching, a vast array of titles come up, such as “Wicked,” “Grease” or “The Phantom of the Opera.” However, although such musicals may appear to have been around since the beginning of time, they all had their first appearance at one point. This past weekend on Bethel’s campus was one such beginning, as it featured the world premiere of a play written by Bethel student Kayla Rundquist and directed by student Alex Price. Rundquist, a sophomore theatre and English for writing double major, spoke on where her inspiration for the play originally came from and the process the play went through to be chosen as a play to be produced at Bethel. “I was in a playwriting class last semester, and for our final project, we had to write a one-act play,” said Rundquist, “and so that’s where I wrote ‘Like Watchmen.’ The inspiration originally came from the song ‘The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,’ and that’s where the inspiration came from to write about a shipwreck and the idea of what it must have been like waiting for news, and it just blossomed from there.” Rundquist went on, “The theatre club then also had a play reading festival where they picked four of the plays from that class and did a staged reading of them. Then after that, the theatre department read through all the plays with the intention being that if they liked one than they’d pick it to perform next year, and they ended up picking mine.” After the play had been chosen to be done on Bethel’s campus, it became necessary to choose a director. Price, a junior theatre arts major, was the individual chosen to direct the play. “I went through a directing interview process and then got picked to direct it,” Price stated. From there, the process took off and the task became to turn words written on a page into a live action reality, which took a large amount of collaboration from both director and playwright. “I got it in mid-July and started creating the vision and the concept for the show,” stated Price, “then when we did the auditioning process it was mostly me, but then Kayla was also in the room and I was always asking for feedback from her, but at the end of the day it was the director’s final choice.” He went on, “Once we started table work rehearsals, Kayla, the actors and I talked about intentions, motivations and what the lines mean. (She) and I really collaborated there to just bring out the meaning of the script.” Rundquist also spoke a bit about her role in the rehearsal process. “In the beginning, I was not in rehearsals because it wouldn’t have been useful for me to be there,” she said. “During table readings, I highlighted things that I thought would be valuable for the actors to know, such as what the lines actually meant; I would be there to help delve into the material better and then Alex would tell them how he wanted them to interpret the material.” As the performance dates crept closer, the type of rehearsal changed into a much more focused and driven entity. “Once we went into blocking rehearsals in January, that’s really where I took over most of it and Kayla would come in every now and then and she’d make edits to the script and give actors changes and just make the script better; it was always changing all the way up to a week before the show,” Price stated. Price went on to add, “Once you go into production, the director really takes over the role of being at the helm of it, but the playwright still has a strong voice, because you’re serving the (playwright).” Rundquist also commented in regards to her role throughout the final semester leading up to the performance, “This semester, I pretty much just sat and would just take notes to ask questions really, but it was really all Alex’s job,” she said. The production was one of immense collaboration and teamwork. I asked both Price and Rundquist what the relationship between playwriter and director felt like for both of them. “It was a learning process for me of releasing control on it and trusting Alex to do a good job while also seeing the differences of how I thought of it in my head and how it came out,” said Rundquist,” but knowing that they were good differences and there’s more than one way to perform it.” She went on to add, “It was cool to see a bunch of different minds working on something instead of just one, and it comes out better than the product of just a single mind. It’s like this creative collaboration where everyone’s pouring their talents into it.” From the director’s perspective, Price shared, “It’s a little weird when you have the director and (playwright) relationship, because you want the actors getting notes and direction from one person because if you’re getting it from multiple people the actors can get confused, and they’re not sure what to listen to. It was also difficult to serve the (playwright) to the best of my ability, while being another person with their own vision that caused the original to change, but (that’s) okay.” The production took both minds to complete, so I was also interested in hearing how both individuals felt they’d grown from the experience and what it meant to them that Bethel was willing to partake in such an enterprise. “For me, wanting to be a director, having experience on a new play is huge because it just gives me more experience and makes me more well-rounded,” stated Price, “and I learned the things that really work and the things that could be improved on next time.” He then added, “Producing new work is a really healthy thing to do in a theatre environment; it forces everyone to be on their A-game and be collaborative. Especially, doing a new play, it gets a lot of attention from the surrounding theatre community and especially in (Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival) Region 3, doing a new play is huge, and they really want us to be doing new work, and when you do a new play you have a really good chance of taking the production to festival.” Rundquist added, “It is rare and amazing because it’s a risk doing a new play. You hear ‘Anne of Green Gables’ or ‘Oklahoma’ and you’re going to go because you know that story. It’s financially not lucrative necessarily to do a new play, so the fact that Bethel’s theatre department is willing to pour resources and time into something like this is amazing for the institution and for me as a writer because it encourages me that people are willing to take a chance on you.” As this was a play Bethel took a “risk” on, I was highly interested in seeing the play for myself. After watching the play on Saturday evening, I can confidently state that I highly enjoyed it. It was the perfect amount of time for a one-act play, kept me engaged and caused me as an audience member to truly connect with the emotions of the actors. I also enjoyed how the play was one which an audience member could interpret several different ways, causing it to be relatable to a vast array of individuals. Overall, I would give the play very positive reviews, and judging by the basically full house on both Friday and Saturday evening, I’d assume that many other individuals would say the same thing.  
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