While most students have spent the last few weeks preparing for exams, twelve students in theater 200 and 300 classes put together a collection of short plays and monologues.
Also known as "one acts, the students work the entire semester for a final production before an audience on Wednesday, Dec. 12. Directed by fine arts chair Beth Gumnick and illuminated by Nick Perlaky, the students included Elizabeth Hayslett, Jonyca Jiao, Kiera Kyzer, Klaus Li, Sam Lustig, Trey Lydon, Max Montague, Nick Skonberg, Molly Stanfield, Elizabeth Van Deusen, Ellie Waldrep, and Steven Yao. They have spent months preparing these one acts and presenting them in the Scotty Probasco Academic Center for the enjoyment of students and staff during C period lunches. And truly, they could not have done a better job of occupying the stages of Baylor School and giving audiences something to laugh about, something to praise, and something to think about besides exams, tests, and homework.
Undoubtedly, their performances completely snatched audiences away from the worries of day-to-day life. I myself found that I wouldn’t even have time to draw breath after laughing too loud before the actors would seamlessly steer the scene from energetic and comedic to still and solemn. The theater students each individually delivered and directed their performances with their own distinct personalities and styles. I could not have been more delighted to be audience to my peers as they showed me and my fellow spectators just how talented they are.
The performance started out with a comedic sketch performed by Skonberg, Stanfield, and Yao. Skonberg, both in the first play and all the other ones he performed in afterwards, hooks audiences with what looks like no effort as soon as he opens his mouth. His timing is impeccable. The way he manipulates his voice and body language in order to better fit a scene is insanely impressive. He gives off an energy in his comedy akin to Ben Stiller. His monologue as a man who’s going mad, though, was equally as commendable as his comic scenes. He put on a character with his body language and manner of speech that creeped me out as much as Joker in The Dark Knight, and I praise Nick on his affinity for all areas of theater.
Stanfield absolutely belongs on the stage. Relaxed and suave in style, her scenes were believable and her characters admirable. When she performs, everybody in the audience wants to listen to her. In her romantic scenes and in her monologue about parental struggles from the perspective of a teenager, Stanfield is absolutely lovely and distinctive and real. The obliviousness of her character in both “Table for Three and Third Wheel” completed the comedic aspects of both acts, whereas in “”It’s All in Your Mind”, audience members young and old could feel the frustration and the loneliness stemming out of her mouth and into her character’s words. The audience was completely silent as she talked about failing classes and pretending to be happy, because it hit us in a way that we weren’t expecting.
When watching Yao perform on stage, everyone could tell that he’d been working hard in theater class since the beginning of the school year. He’s always present on stage, and so, throughout each performance, he’s paying attention and moving naturally in a manner that’s hard to attain. Every word, every movement, every breath is delivered intentionally and in character. I definitely, in past productions, had a tendency to glaze over and zone out during ensemble scenes, completely forgetting I was on stage. It’s hard not to. Yao is clearly an invested actor and a hard worker, as is clear when he performs.
It’s not news to anyone who’s ever been to Baylor that Jiao is a complete rock star. We’ve seen her dive into every performance art and make it her own. Jiao has this passion for performance that causes her to take the stage. She first appeared in the one acts collection in a monologue called “The Staggering Heartbreak of Jasmine Merriwether” in which she carries on a one-sided conversation where she confesses her love to somebody. And, although we only get half of the scene, we can see and connect to all of her emotions as she opens herself up to a new possibility of love and gets rejected. Even though she faced the audience, I felt like I was intruding on a private moment, witnessing something I wasn’t supposed to witness, and sharing the same emotions as the speaker. The way her character went from euphoric to apologetic to frantic was absolutely heartbreaking because of her sincerity. She carried the same sincerity and talent from the monologue through all her other scenes, and thus her presence on stage was fantastic.
The 2018 Fall Players got to see Lustig explore and develop his acting style during their production of ‘The Government Inspector.” Lustig is one of the funniest members of the theater community, and so his natural and personal passion for comedy shows in his acting. He completely immerses himself in the characters he plays; he chooses characteristics and mannerisms that fit character’s personalities in a noticeably stylized way. And it gets even better when he exaggerates on stage. When he puts on an accent, yells at the audience, when he outlines his characters in confident and telling body language, it’s clear that Lustig knows how to make people laugh. And, once again, the theater class displays a remarkable affinity for appropriate and unique shifts in tone. In “A Boy, a Ball, a Bat,” I didn’t even notice that I went from laughing and whispering to my friends to staring at Lustig, Li, and Yao intently because the scene had shifted so suddenly. Lustig went from ranting about steroids to washing the audience with a wave of nostalgia so subtly, and I enjoyed seeing the same style in both his directing and acting for the rest of the performance.
Li does an amazing job of moving on stage, portraying emotion, and speaking to his fellow actors in a genuine way. In “A Boy, a Ball, a Bat,” the pantomimed movements (i.e. sipping his drink and shifting his position in his chair) were so naturally carried through all his scenes that I felt like I was people-watching. The dynamic that he and Jiao portrayed in “Views” was spectacular. He fantasized out loud about getting a job that is fulfilling and meaningful to him rather than a job that just pays well. Being high school students heading off to college soon, the audience listened intently and reflectively, as the dichotomy between the two kinds of professions could not seem larger right now. We listened closely to his frustration, his regret, the way he fumbled for words, the way he showed that his character had something to say but held back. The one acts were Li’s debut in theater performance at Baylor, making his ability to shift between natural casualness to heartfelt reflection all the more impressive.
Actors are often told that they must prioritize making the audience believe that the performance they’re watching is happening in real time. It’s important to appear as though what’s happening on stage has never happened before, even though everyone knows actors spend months on end rehearsing. Kyzer does a killer job of doing just that. She’s got this sweet and energetic way of connecting to people both in real life and on stage, giving her audiences the feeling that her words are special to each individual watching; this ultimately results in the notion that the performance she rehearsed endlessly is actually being delivered for the first time. When she was rambling about how and why she accidentally sold her soul in “Charm,” it felt like all of it was happening in the moment. It gave the overall collection of plays a sincerity and dedication that was definitely memorable for each audience member.
Haylsett first appeared on stage in her monologue, “The Laramie Project,” and she didn’t take even a second to immediately dive into her character and make it her own. The way that she performs, with her eyes and body language and the way she speaks, makes audiences feel like she’s telling them a secret. She completely embraces the nature of each scene she’s in. The fact that she leans into her characters draws in audiences. In this monologue specifically, the performance ends with both her and the audience members listening to and watching each other so intently that everyone is physically leaning into the center of the room, towards each other, drawn into and onto the stage. She captured the room once again in “Surprise,” showing audiences the exact frustration, anger, and embarrassment that people feel when they’re in a one-sided argument. That ability to lean in, draw in, is amazing, and it seemed like she genuinely meant it when she threw a glass of water on Montague in despair. Haylsett has brought that talent into every performance she’s been in and directed at Baylor and it was on clear display Wednesday.
Montague is such a sweet and sincere person that his personality bubbles over into his acting. Before anything else, I’d like to applaud him on his timing. In many of his scenes, Montague's character was interjecting and syncing up lines in incredibly fast paced and difficult scenes. He didn’t seem like he was waiting for the moment to say his lines at all; every word, every movement was completely relaxed in method and real in execution. In all the one acts he performed in and directed, his characters were absolutely lovely and genuine. The way that he acts in difficult scenes balances the intensity of the performed arguments and family dinners, and it gave the audience a character that they felt like they could really see.
Van Deusen and her family have been doing theater at Baylor for many years, and her natural talent and developed ability for theater are ingrained in her performances. She knowingly and purposefully delivers characters that the audience can peer into, dropping hints as to the kind of person her character is throughout the entire performance. When she speaks, she’s able to catch herself realistically in cut-off lines, and continue to show the audience whether her character is embarrassed or confident, in love or heartbroken, happy or sad, doing so in a way that doesn’t seem calculated at all. Her ability to deliberately create a discreetly telling character (both in plays that she acted in and directed) gives the audience the impression that they’re reading into her character’s impulsive actions, when, in reality, the work she puts into the performances is completely intentional.
Confidence is an incredible key to get people through situations and actors through their scenes. Lydon clearly understands this, as his smooth, purposeful, and confident acting characterized each scene he was in. He impressively casts aside his own anxieties and thoughts for a performance, creating an on-stage presence that’s visibly ensconced in his own character. The solidity of his characters formed a comedic scene in Charm that had the audience laughing the whole time. While dealing with Kyzer’s newfound lack of a soul, he portrayed genuine confusion and frustration, all in appropriate timing and attitude. His commingled confidence, talent, and hard work resulted in an impressive performance, and impressive directing.
Finally, an attempt to verbalize the way that Waldrep’s performances made the audience feel: In both Surprise and The Miracle of Chanukah, Waldrep’s characters were sweet and soft-spoken girls who had something important to say. Waldrep, being personable offstage as well, took these characters, ran with them, and waited for her turn to speak. When those moments came, she managed to so softly and genuinely take over the scenes, suffusing the stage with a new feeling of heartfelt intention. From confessing her love to a psychic to finally opening up to someone about something she witnessed when her mother died, she brought real emotion and love onto the stage and into her characters.
I know that, universally, each actor has his/her own strengths and style. But I think it’s worth pointing out the diligence of the aforementioned students. It’s nearly exam week, it’s the holiday season, and anyone who’s ever had any brush with theater knows how hard being involved in a production is without even considering outer influences. I know of the late rehearsals, the onerous scenes, the difficulty of teaching yourself over a period of time to act like and talk like someone else. The one acts collection was not only emotionally encompassing, but also insanely impressive when put in the context of the theater scene. There wasn’t a single non-believable moment or detectable flubbed line. The students managed to beautifully illustrate a wide range of themes as well; actors and audience alike were able to connect with one another over generational differences, miracles, faith, religion, politics, family dynamics, insecurities, love, life, and death. Simply put, all of it was incredible, and I think each of the students deserves their own individual applause.