By: Georgia Diamond Gustavson
As the University of Puget Sound’s theatre productions begin to draw near, Michelle Bank, junior and director of the Town Crier production “Happy B-Earth Day,” has been working hard to find Al Gore.
“He’s like the missing man of 2016, he really is,” Bank said. The play, written by Allie Lawrence, is one of six ten-minute pieces that will be performed in this year’s 15th annual Town Crier Festival. She is hesitant to reveal too much about the play, or to pinpoint its exact style, but considering it involves Al Gore showing up to someone’s birthday party, it’s bound to be fun and absurd. What is more important to her than actualizing her perfect artistic vision for the play however, is to find out who she is as a director, and how she can positively engage in the theatre community within the director’s role.
“I have more of an image of who I want to be as a director. I want to be caring. I want to be free. I want people to have their own artistic freedom,” Bank said. Produced by our student-run Bare Bones Collective, Town Crier is the first of our yearly productions written, directed, produced and acted exclusively by students. The selection and rehearsal process is only about a month long; the pace is quick and the obligation level is manageable. For those who want opportunities in theatre, it provides students with more space for exploration and artistic freedom than anything else produced on campus.
“Town Crier has been very kind to me,” said Alice Hudson, junior, who is acting in one Town Crier play this year and has written the script for another. Her involvement with Town Crier over the past few years has been overwhelmingly positive, leading to close friendships and the opportunity to take on theatrical roles, such as writing, that would be hard to find otherwise. Erin Ganley, producer and member of the Bare Bones executive team, considers herself an actor and is now finding the stresses and joys of being in charge of a theatre production for the first time. Bank is also using Town Crier to try out directing, to get experience and empathize more with positions in the theatre world that are unfamiliar to her.
“I always thought that [during the casting process] being an actor was harder. You are being judged this whole time. Now I think being on the casting side is really stressful because you are putting your heart and soul into these few actors, for these few parts,” Bank said. Ganley cannot emphasize enough how important this opportunity can be for theatre-minded people to express themselves in ways they would not be able to otherwise. Students can be involved without the stress and competition of a professional production; they can even try out something new. Though the production still has to go through the theatrical selection process, Ganley still wants to make the experience as inclusive as possible, in classic Town Crier spirit.
“Town Crier allows students who are perhaps too nervous to do [main stage productions] or perhaps didn’t get into the main stage [production] to feel like they are part of the theatre community…to engage in theatre, to engage in the department and to engage with each other,” Hudson said. She also thinks the level of freedom and creativity that is allowed for the festival is vital. This year, Hudson’s script “Ghost Play” is a sex comedy involving a lesbian couple and a ghost that balances lewd humor with more serious moral lessons about consent and a relatable story for LGBT youth that aren’t catered to by mainstream productions.
Many of the other plays this year follow a similar tone, with high levels of LGBT representation and a theme of exploring relationships. There are also lots of comedies this year, with a drama or two to offer a break between laughs. Bank thinks that, though there is never a theme for Town Crier, there is usually some sort of “nucleus thought” the production gravitates around because we are all students in the same community.
“In Town Crier, we get a lot of real problems that we see here on campus,” Ganley said. “We get to see what [the students] want to see on stage.” Since the plays are written by students, and there are as few guidelines as possible, the result is raw, direct, personal, and more relatable for the student body than anything else many will be able to find. Even the absurdist brand of comedy the plays use feels modern, and perhaps most understood and appreciated by those in the same social pocket as those who created the plays. This isn’t Shakespeare; it’s something so much more close to our hearts.
“I want people to have cathartic experiences when they see [Town Crier],” Banks said. “I hope people feel like they are part of something.”