‘Merely Players’ eyes the director’s chair

They have named their group “Merely Players,” and are basing their initiative after a now decade-long absence. Juniors Matthew Greene and Kevin Qian, along with sophomores Lucas Hardy and Irene Zielinski are heading an effort to bring back student-directed and student-led plays at Westminster. While they are merely players, they hope to revive this practice as part of the school’s already flourishing theater department. The school used to put on student-led plays, but stopped in 2001 due to time conflicts. Green, Qian, and Hardy are hoping to bring back student-led productions within a viable schedule that is compatible with the current schedule of productions.

The students who participated in the previous student-directed plays were in it for the fun, but Merely Players hopes to incorporate more than just fun into student-led plays. Students alone would oversee every aspect of the production even though there would be a required faculty sponsor. The group would offer more roles than just acting to students, including those interested in tech crew and in directing.

“One of our main goals is to get people involved who may not be interested in theater otherwise, for instance people who would want to design costumes or paint sets,” said Greene. “In the future students could take part in the pit orchestra and others could conduct and teach music.”

As a member of tech crew, Zielinski believes that Merely Players would help form a bridge between the technological side and the acting side of theater.

“A lot of actors could experience the techie side of plays because a lot of them don’t understand what goes on,” said Zielinski, “and the close knit experience would build more actor-techie camaraderie.”

Those involved would become more invested in many different aspects of the production because of the small scale and responsibility of running the shows.

“The general idea is to not just to create a play,” said Qian, “but to learn everything that comes with it such as proper use of tech, how to direct, and advertising.”

Participants would be held accountable for running the shows, thus allowing them to better understand and appreciate the work that goes into a production.

“Right now the production of a play is something that is undervalued at Westminster,” said Hardy. “Students would benefit from these productions by learning from the responsibility of putting on the entire play rather than a small part.”

The student-led productions would be small and flexible, functioning more like the one-act plays currently do at Westminster. Merely Players would also be able to choose their own plays based on the needs and abilities of the group. They are currently looking to put on The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged which is an audience-involved parody of an assortment of Shakespeare plays.

“Some of the plays we were thinking about doing weren’t as serious as the ones Westminster currently does,” said Hardy. “They aren’t really on the same side of theater.”

The project also will focus on creating opportunities for students who are not typically featured in plays.

“With […] All My Sons, the majority of the cast was comprised of people who had not been featured in previous plays, and it was a beautiful show,” said Zielinski. “Everybody was really involved and excited about it. It’s always great to see people you don’t see that often on stage get an opportunity and really blossom.”

Similar to the one act plays, the student led plays would focus on showcasing actors who are often not the leads in main productions.

“When you prepare for an audition over a long period of time and end up getting an ensemble role it can feel disheartening to not be recognized for the effort you put into it,” said Greene. “And we want to include these people.”

The group feels that a small group of dedicated students can make the productions into something very special. Additionally, the small size of the student-run productions would allow students to be more comfortable and confident auditioning.

“We want more people to be involved in theater,” said Qian, “and we want this to be more inviting toward anyone who may want to try theater, but is intimidated to do so.”

The group feels confident about its initiative and has taken many steps forward since coming up with the idea over the summer. In preparation for its first production, Merely Players has spoken to fine arts director Linda Cherniavsky, Cindy Fox, Eric Brannen, Teresa DeBerry. Hardy and Qian created a Facebook group as a place for ideas. They also researched and searched for possible pieces for the group to perform, including Actor’s Nightmare, 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee, and Dog Sees God. They’ve also spoken about props and tech usage.

“Our biggest roadblock at this point is getting space,” said Qian, “as well as a faculty member to sponsor us.”

The group’s main issues are resources and support as well as the need to create a legacy to keep the plays going over the years.

“What’s hard when looking at the plays is keeping in mind that we have a budget of zero dollars,” said Qian, “and everything will be run with what we are given.”

The group hopes to begin casting for its first production in mid- to late- March.

“We want people to have more experience with theater,” said Qian. “We ultimately want to spread our love for theater.”