Thespians rejoice: starting March 4, the University of New Mexico’s Department of Theatre and Dance and UNM’s student theater organization SCRAP will be holding a festival of two new plays written, directed, performed and coproduced by undergraduate students.
The two plays are “The Jaw Comb” and “Letters to a Dead Poet.” Performances will be held at the X – Experimental Theatre March 4-6 and 10-13.
“I’m really excited just for everyone to have their own piece of this play … I’m excited to see how it flourishes and how everyone gets to work on stage with it and takes it in a way that they feel proud of,” Savannah Ramirez, writer of “The Jaw Comb” said.
“The Jaw Comb” is a dark comedy about a group of roommates who happen upon a comb with a human mandible attached to it and incur misfortunes as a result of the discovery. “Letters to a Dead Poet” is a drama about a girl’s struggles with the physical embodiments of her mental illnesses as she writes letters as an assignment from her therapist.
“I think the shows compliment each other in a really weird way. One’s a comedy and one’s a drama, but they’re both so … very blunt; they’re very in your face, in a really cool way, and I think that’s going to be awesome,” Ari Williams, director of “Letters to a Dead Poet” said.
Williams said “Letters to a Dead Poet” is very movement-based, and the actors have been able to find an interesting way to showcase representational characters with caricature and movement inspired by modern dance.
“Sometimes we have open dialogues about the content of the show, and we ask each other, ‘What do you think would make this truer to the message it’s trying to send?’ It’s a cool group to work with,” Williams said.
The text of the play was greatly inspired by writer Aubrey Sandoval’s personal experiences confronting mental illness in herself and her loved ones.
“I think the biggest inspiration for me personally to write this play was my own experiences but mostly seeing what others around me have gone through … you know, (mental illness) is something that people don’t talk about,” Sandoval said.
Sandoval used this play as a way to work through complicated dynamics in her own family regarding mental health. She hopes this play can serve as a destigmatizing work for those who watch it.
“I wrote it so others can maybe tie themselves into it, in a way, and also find an outlet,” Sandoval said.
“The Jaw Comb'' was inspired by the sitcom structure. Ramirez said she has been pleased seeing the direction the material has gone over the course of rehearsals.
“I really like watching everyone’s spin on it. I like watching how actors play with something so odd,” Ramirez said. “It’s a jaw comb — it’s kind of weird and it’s kind of grotesque, and watching their delight in discovering these characters and discovering what the jaw comb is and what it means to them, it’s very unique and it’s very special, and I’m glad I get to be there.”
Key to the success of these rehearsals has been the excellent chemistry among the cast, according to “The Jaw Comb” director Paul Esquibel.
“Where everything is right now, the cast is great, chemistry is awesome, everyone is getting along so well. Everybody is really into the script and they all believe in the project. Every rehearsal we all come out smiling and laughing, so it’s been awesome,” Esquibel said.
Williams is excited to see “The Jaw Comb” be performed as well as to finally see the payoff of all of the difficult work put in by the cast and crew of the shows.
Both Ramirez and Sandoval are interested to see the audience’s reaction to their own uniquely blunt styles of writing as well as the dark subject matter the two chose to tackle. Ramirez invited the audience to embrace the oddity of the plays.
“I feel like, if you go into a performance, just have an open mind about it. Especially now in our day-to-day lives, where we’re just (leaving) old theater behind (and) entering a new era of fancy, crazy theater,” Sandoval said.
Zara Roy is the news editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @zarazzledazzle