Two Peas in a Pod: UNCW theatre group showcases two original student-written plays for second weekend
The beauty of being a college student is the rope you’re allowed to swing by in order to live and learn—to create without boundaries and to put it out for all the world to see. It’s exciting, invigorating, and redeeming to fashion that first story for a workshop, and learn how to take in the criticism and revise without being too jaded by the process.
UNCW’s STAGE Company cultivates this idea by allowing folks from all majors—film, creative writing, business, theatre—to join the company in order to perform, produce, direct, and write a host of scripts for the community at large to see. This weekend they’ll produce “The Write Stuff,” featuring two original plays by student playwrights, at Browncoat Pub and Theatre. It will be the second weekend of the show; last weekend they showcased it for free at UNCW’s Warwick Center.
Director Zeb Mims, who’s leading the helm for playwright Hannah Gilles’ “YOLO,” says the difference between the two weekends essentially comes down to aesthetics. While Warwick provided a great space for a first go-round, Browncoat will provide more visuals.
“We’re going to have some fantastic lighting design from their technical director, Richard Blaylock,” Mims notes. “We’re going to have a lot more resources available to us from being in an actual theater, and we’re very grateful to the Browncoat for giving us this opportunity.”
Mims connected with Gilles—who’s currently studying abroad in Wales—last October after STAGE Company did their 24-hour theatre block. He asked the writer to scribe a longer, character-driven piece with lighthearted wit. Gilles came up with a rom-com for which she felt college kids could relate.
“I asked if I could ‘put gay stuff in’ and of course he said sure,” Gilles quips. “I think rom-coms tend to be really heteronormative. People think same-gender relationships have to be all drama and tragedy, and I don’t like that. [The characters] Jess and Nikki were my favorite dynamic to write, and I think they’re endearing and add a lot of comedy . . . I wanted something kind of silly, but happy, and I knew Mickey and Matt’s piece was a comedy as well. Mostly, I just wanted to make people laugh.”
Mickey Johnson and Matt Carter are the duo team behind “The Birthday Witch,” the second show of “The Write Stuff.” Directed by Olivia Arokiasamy, “The Birthday Witch” follows the most powerful witches in the universe, including a New Orleans voodoo queen, a powerfully bitter, caustic alcoholic, and even a promiscuous pyro. They come together, but their contact brings out a bit of over-animation, which leads to a lot of satire.
“Matt and I feed off of each other comedy-wise,” Johnson says. “We have very similar senses of humor, so at any point we could say something ridiculous in the voice of any one of our characters and then find some way to write it into the script. It is made up of our seemingly random quotes intertwined with an adventurous plot, following our main dynamic character, Hector, who kept the play somewhat grounded … somewhat.”
Aside from offering thoughts on casting, Johnson and Carter granted Arokiasamy free range and creative liberties with their script. Because of her love for the characters in “The Birthday Witch,” the directing job has been nothing shy of comedy itself.
“I thought it would be fun to find the truth in people that are unrealistic on paper, and it has been,” Arokiasamy says. “Our rehearsals have been full of a lot of laughs as we discovered new meanings to dialogue, the relationships and histories each character has with each other, and exactly what happened in Orlando.”
Both Mims and Arokiasamy are pleased to find the source material of “The Write Stuff” so complementary. Each play has a short run time, with “YOLO” clocking in at 45 minutes and “The Birthday Witch” running only slightly longer. Plus, each are stylistically similar.
“Both are essentially about a guy moving beyond his personal shortcomings, his search for self-worth, and going way out of his way for the sake of a girl, be it a secret crush or his mother,” Mims notes. “A large part of both stories revolves around taking the main character and putting him up against some very interesting caricatures, from a stereotypical animal rights activist to a witch with the power of musical theatre.”
“At the same time, they are a different experience by themselves,” Arokiasamy includes, “which adds an important level of variety to the show as a whole.”
STAGE Company produces its shows on a small budget. Oftentimes the actors cull costumes from their own closets or a thrift store. They work with minimalized sets, and they’re their own prop masters and run crew.
“We are technically a student organization, so our resources are limited,” Arokiasamy says. “The lighting for the UNCW run is actually new and exciting because we built it ourselves; however, the lighting at the Browncoat is certainly more professional and made for theatre.”
“When you produce a show on such a small budget, a funny thing happens,” Mims adds. “You quickly learn what is and what is not essential to the story. ‘YOLO’ has been an experiment in minimalist set design. We stripped away a lot of the extra items that we didn’t necessarily need to tell the story.”
The Write Stuff
Browncoat Pub and Theatre
111 Grace Street
Thurs., Mar. 20-22, 8 p.m.;
Mar. 23, 5 p.m.