Theatre spotlight: “Unheard/Unspoken”

Graphic by Sophie Springer

Nicole Yeager, Contributing Writer

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Those who had the opportunity to experience the student production of “Unheard/Unspoken” at the Harvey M. Powers Theatre on campus last week know how truly incredible it was. This deeply moving and dynamic work of art touched upon a variety of themes and issues relevant to the University’s campus, such as anxiety, miscommunication and loneliness. Following the storyline of multiple college students and closely mirroring the culture of our own campus, the play allowed every single University student sitting in the audience to feel personally connected in some way.

 

Moment Work 

What makes this production even more incredible is that it was written, designed, and performed solely by students. The play was created through a technique called Moment Work — a technique in which scenes, or moments, can be “as simple as picking up a pen and putting it down,” Lydia Kappelmeier ’21 said. “We began by bringing into class and rehearsal small moments that gradually increased in complexity and form.”

This artistic technique allowed the process of writing and creating the work to be very fluid and collaborative. Every member of the team contributed their own thoughts and ideas, which were then workshopped and developed collaboratively. After collecting all of these moments, the team then created an individual narrative for each of the characters and pieced them together into a complete storyline. Next came building the set, adding in the lighting elements and curating the playlist. Interestingly, writing the script was the final step. 

 

Sitting in the Audience

During the performance, the theater was filled with students from different communities, all brought together to support their friends. As the lights dimmed and the play began, every member of the audience seemed wholly drawn into the characters and their stories, watching them develop on the stage.

The piece began with three characters who represented the three “fates,” and they served as narratives voices that spoke directly to the audience throughout the story. The next scene introduced three first-year students who were moving into college, each of them adopting unique struggles as their stories progressed. The play also depicted the parents of these characters, who had their own backstories. Overall, the entire production interwove the narratives of nine college students, their parents and a professor to create a piece that was universally relatable.

Perhaps one of the most engaging scenes was one that depicted students taking a writing course, during which they had to write in response to various prompts about their personal lives. The topics that they wrote about — such as loss — pushed the characters to be vulnerable, dig a little deeper to find what they were truly feeling and express themselves through their words. This introduced another main theme of the play: the power of words. Evidently, these feelings of confusion about relationships, the events taking place in our lives and inner thoughts and identity are omnipresent in the daily lives of young adults and college students. The play reflected the idea that writing can be a way to work through troubling emotions and find stable ground again. In the last scene of the play, the professor asks the students to write about the things they love about themselves. And, in a truly touching end to the scene, when he asks who wants to share first, every student raises their hands.

In addition to a poignant script and exceptional acting skills, the production featured various sensory-stimulating elements, such as a dynamic set design that added to the scenes, creative use of sheets and shadows and a surprisingly good playlist. By telling a story through individual characters, their relationships to one another, and their specific moments, the production truly highlighted the value of singular elements coming together. This style also gave each scene, each line, and each moment the attention it deserved. At the end of the show, almost every audience member was on their feet applauding for their University peers.

 

Production Themes

“Every single person on this earth has their own unique storyline that makes them themselves,” Kappelmeier said, reflecting on the inspiration for the production. “Everyone has their own struggles that we may not know of, we all have our inner voices that only we know. Also, it’s okay to not be okay. You don’t have to be happy 24/7, because what exactly is the definition of happiness?”

Utilizing the idea of emotional dilemmas, “Unheard/Unspoken” spotlighted many different topics to which we, as college students, can relate: issues regarding family and home life, body image, the future, unhealthy relationships, personal anxieties, discrimination and many more. An even greater, more overarching theme was how everyone works through these personal struggles in their own way.

“Seeing an idea that I had in my head come to life on stage in a very short amount of time, become enhanced with the creative ideas of castmates, and then land in the final product of the play was incredible,” Dana Pardee ’22 said.

The entire process involved a great deal of developing and reworking to become the final piece that was shared with the University. It was evident that the team put forth an immense amount of hard work, dedication and passion into the project. Pardee reflected on how the group, including herself, was “pushed to step out of [our] comfort zone multiple times throughout this process.” But, regardless, Pardee considers it one of the greatest experiences she has had at the University.

 

The Aftermath

Through the three months that they worked on “Unheard/Unspoken,” this talented group of students formed new bonds, learned from each other and grew as individuals. The collaborative process allowed them to build off of each other’s creativity and talent, while they each brought their own skills to the table.

“My absolute favorite part about working on this process was the people that I got to work with,” Pardee said. “Being able to successfully create a production from scratch, share personal experiences, relate to one another, and, of course, spend the 20-plus hours a week together since the beginning of the semester has bonded each of us.” This close relationship within the whole team is clear to see, on and off the stage.

This production is something that proved to be meaningful, not only to the students who put it together but to every student who was able to experience it and be touched by it. The fact that these students were able to take such significant themes, think about them and then integrate them with their incredible talent and hard work to create a work of art that can be shared with others is truly awe-inspiring.

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