Impulse: Students Direct the Winter Play

By Chandler Pettus

After months of preparation, and only a week of rehearsals, Collegiate thespians put on their annual one-act play on Jan. 11 and 12. The Winter Play is traditionally directed and produced by members of the Honors Theater class taught by Upper School Theater Director Steve Perigard. This year’s class consists of Olivia Dimond (‘18), Dorsey Ducharme (‘18), Nichole Gould (‘18), Steele Viverette (‘18), and Turner Wood (‘18). Working hard on this project for months, the five talented seniors successfully put on Impulse, this year’s production, in the Octagon in the Sharp Academic Commons.

“Five Minute Romance.” Photo credit: Taylor Dabney.

Impulse is a collection of scenes by different playwrights centered around the theme of love and people’s interactions within relationships. The scenes, presented chronologically, go through the cyclical nature of relationships, showing the audience how the characters are affected by love and the development of their relationships. This year’s selections were chosen from various plays, as well as from anthologies of scenes. Students in the Honors Theater class set the play’s focus toward more contemporary issues designed to relate to and connect with the audience.

“Where Was I?” Photo credit: Taylor Dabney.

I had the privilege of attending both performances of the show, and I was astounded. It was amazing to see so many of my friends as totally different people. The character commitment each actor contributed was no less than 100%. I was particularly impressed by the performances in the scene “Where Was I?” written by John Cariani and directed by Gould. It portrays the difficulties that may arise between a married couple, Liz and Abbie, played by Emma Blackwood (‘20) and Madeleine Watkins (‘19). In the struggles of giving up her career to be a better wife and parent to her two children, a sense of uncertainty arises within Abbie. She finds that she has lost herself due to the sacrifices she has made to benefit her relationship and family. Watkins’ and Blackwood’s portrayals of struggling parents were magnificent; both brought such a strong sense of confrontation to the scene that made it much more intriguing. They also worked very well under Gould’s direction. Watkins said, “Getting to work with a student director opens you up to a lot of freedom, because there is less intimidation and pressure. As actors, we’re open to try new things and really express ourselves during the process. We have the opportunity to go in some directions of acting and themes in ways that we wouldn’t necessarily be able to in bigger productions.”

“Entertaining Mr. Helms.” Photo credit: Taylor Dabney.

It was clear that “Entertaining Mr. Helms,” directed by Wood, was also a crowd favorite. This satirical scene by Christopher Durang depicts a traditional nuclear American family discussing various parts of their typical lives over breakfast. The family consists of a very conservative father who commands they recite the Pledge of Allegiance each morning, a wife who does the “jobs of a woman,” a daughter who is praised for her happiness about a classmate dying from an abortion, and a son who gets in trouble for naming sports teams by words with “inappropriate meanings.” I had never laughed so hard in my life; the scene was very well-cast and perfectly executed as a commentary on the stereotypical American family. As the father, Kieran Cottrell (’18) brought a great, demanding presence to the stage, as well as many humorous elements. Depicting the role of the daughter, Caliyah Bennett (’20) made significant contributions to the comedic material with her sweet and innocent delivery. 

The Winter Play is traditionally performed on the stage in Oates Theater in a Black Box style; however, due to the renovations of Oates, an alternative venue was necessary. The directors wanted to keep the setting of the theater in a round, where the stage is placed in the middle with the audience surrounding it, and the Octagon seemed to be the perfect location. A small stage was built on the school seal in the middle of the room, and seating was set up on all four sides. Although it was not what members of the Honors Theater class would have planned originally, this change was viewed as a positive element. Wood says that “not having Oates was a difficult obstacle; however, I believe it ended up helping our production. We ended up picking a venue which was perfect for what we wanted to show, and for me, it made the experience much more memorable than it would have been if we had used Oates.”

The directors of Impulse. Photo credit: Chandler Pettus.

The Winter Play was an overall success this year, and I feel very sorry for anyone who did not get the pleasure of seeing Impulse. Whether it is performing, directing, or helping out backstage, the talented theater students here at Collegiate always put on a fantastic production.

Featured image: The program for Impulse, designed by Addison Ratchford (’18).

About the author

Chandler Pettus is a junior at Collegiate.