Senior Theatre Festival: the process of the theatre thesis

The Happy Trail

By Angela Cookston

Every spring, the Theatre department puts on the Senior Theatre Festival (STF). But what is it? And how does this complicated production process come together? The Trail sat down with a theatre major and a staff member to find out.

“STF is a culmination of the theatre major’s career here at the University of Puget Sound,” Robin Macartney, theater shop supervisor and alumnus of the University of Puget Sound, said. “It’s the senior theatre major’s thesis. It is four shows in four weeks. [It is] a chance for all theatre majors and theatre-makers to be on the main stage.”

The unique process for the theatre thesis starts in the fall semester, in a required senior theatre course. “We read four plays a week first semester. A lot of times you’ll say, ‘This play doesn’t really speak to me. I don’t necessarily see a role in that,’” Adrian Kljucec, a senior theatre major, said. “You have to decide on four plays together, four directors, and then you fill up the positions in a way that you can argue for your thesis.”

“Any play is on the table,” Macartney said. “We have done Shakespeare, we have done musicals.” The only requirement is that they must be decided by the end of the first semester.

After the plays are picked, the process gets even more difficult. “Then you decide who the four directors are going to be, and, of course, there’s tensions around that,” Kljucec said. “You have to make sure everyone has a part that they feel happy and satisfied with. There were a couple weeks where tension was really high.”

However, at the heart of STF is teamwork. “It never stops being a collaboration … Theatre is very experiential and [STF] is the kind of stuff you’ll be doing in the real world if you’re doing theatre in Seattle,” Kljucec said. “It’s a trial for real life. It has gone by so fast and it has felt pretty natural, which is really cool because it makes me feel like I’m ready to go out in the world and be a theatre artist and collaborator.”

In the spring, stage design and production begin. Macartney, as the theater shop supervisor, works closely with the senior designers. “Their designs are due two weeks before their build,” Macartney said. “They have one week of build time in the shop and one week of tech on stage … On Friday they open, and then on Saturday night they strike. And we start the whole process over again.”

The stage for STF is unique. It is ‘in the round,’ meaning that performers are surrounded on all sides by the audience. This is in contrast to traditional theatre, which is performed with only one side facing the audience. Macartney explained that this setup is difficult for actors. “They’re always having to think about the fact that everyone is around them. It is hard for designers too,” she said. “Everything has to look good all the way around. People are going to be no less than 10 feet away from any set piece. And sometimes they’re closer.”

STF designers have access to many of the resources that main-stage faculty productions do. “They have access to the costume stock,” Macartney said. “They have access to the theater props and furniture stocks. So there really are a lot of options if they use their resources wisely.”

Although STF is primarily a senior project, the student directors can cast students from all class standings. “Freshmen have gotten cast multiple times in really big roles,” Macartney said.

In his first year of college, Kljucec participated in STF. “I’d never done theatre before [coming to the University of Puget Sound] and my freshman year I was interested in acting. They were holding STF auditions … I auditioned and I got in and it was the first acting thing I had ever done … It was so cool to be working alongside peers … I did it two years in a row.”

Now, as a senior, Kljucec works with underclassmen. “It feels like a mentorship in a way,” he said. “It’s that kind of trade work where you pass on your skills to someone else. You share them … All our hearts are in it and we’re producing this art.”

Kljucec is fulfilling part of his thesis by sound designing “Lunacy,” which opened March 31, and acting in the final play of the festival, “Afterlife.”

Each play will be performed Friday night at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 2 and 7:30 p.m. “The Pillowmen” will be performed tonight and tomorrow, “Proof” on April 14 and 15, and “Afterlife: A Ghost Story” on April 21 and 22.

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