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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    CAMPUS SPOTLIGHT: Pocket Theatre

    Lights, camera, action!  Actually, it takes a lot more to put together a decent show than shouting out a few clichés.  Stony Brook’s Pocket Theatre knows this due to the intense amount of work it has done to accomplish its main stage production of “Speech & Debate.”


    This is the word Neha Gandhi said to describe the weeks before the show.

    Gandhi, a freshman psychology major and director of “Speech & Debate,” gave the director’s point-of-view on everything that was accomplished in order to put a show together.  As director of “Speech and Debate,” it was her job to read the play, annotate it and give it her own personal twist.  She determined what kind of sets are needed, the props, lighting and how it all fit together.

    It was harder than it sounds.  She was pretty much “involved with everything,” she said.  Gandhi has a part when deciding the personality for each character, but she also needed to allow each actor to express himself or herself in order to determine the character’s personality.  It’s a lot of “stop and go,” Gandhi said.

    Gandhi received a copy of the script one week before auditions, and she said she was “surprised with the way it’s set up… and a little disturbed.”  That is unsurprising.  The play takes a deep look at the way teenagers are forced to grow up in a world where no one listens to them.  It’s a play about three teenagers discovering themselves while trying to help each other work through traumatic experiences that take traditional teen troubles to the next level.

    As director, Gandhi ran the rehearsals and had the final say in who got the part that was being rehearsed.  Hillary Steinberg, a freshman pre-veterinarian student double majoring in biology and sociology, played the leading role of Diwata, an unrecognized talent at her fictional school in the small town of Salem, Oregon.  The deliberate reference to the Salem Witch Trials in the play is clear; the characters are forced to lie, to themselves and to others, in order to dodge society’s pressure.

    Steinberg described the rehearsals as “really informal”; it was a student run production, and nearly all the rehearsals took place in a meeting room.  “It was easier to make mistakes and grow than in a formal setting,” she said.

    The audition process was intense, Steinberg described, with a few words of help from her fellow actor Jules Mayard, a freshman political science major, who played Howie in the play.  She said the audition was a full page monologue and a two-hour callback.

    It took more than actors and a director to run a show, however.  As this is a Pocket Theatre   production, funding came from USG, or Undergraduate Student Government.  Many of the cast and crew of “Speech & Debate” purchased things on their own dime and have to be reimbursed when Pocket allocates the requisite funding.

    Yet the tight-knit group of cast and crew often found themselves rummaging through their own personal possessions to find the necessary costumes and props.  As Ashley Rizzotto, a freshman biology major and stage manager for the show, said, people are “avidly running to Wal-mart” to grab last-minute things.

    With two weeks left until the show, Gandhi described the experience as “a little nerve wracking,” yet she also said that she has “faith in my actors.”

    The Night Before.

    On the eve of opening night, the production was in what is called tech week, but due to limited access to the Wang Center Theatre, where “Speech & Debate” was performed, it lasted just one night.

    Since there was only one night to get the myriad of things remaining finished, there was a lot of rushing, confusion, tension and passion.  Yet, there was a real camaraderie to the madness.

    Microphones had to be synced with the corresponding actors, and Rizzotto was setting up lighting cues with the lighting staff to ensure the annotations she and Gandhi had done were executed during the show.

    Gareth Burghes, a senior double majoring in theater arts and marine sciences who is president of Pocket Theatre, described the evening as both the dry and wet tech performance.  This means that there wasn’t a separate night to run through the technical aspects, like lights and sounds, followed by a separate night to run through the performance with the technical aspects.

    One hour until Saturday’s performance

    Backstage on Saturday, the second of three nights of performance, the cast and crew were gearing up for a night of laughter and positivity from the audience of approximately 40 people,  the of majority of whom were Stony Brook students.

    Moods ranged from intense and serious to whimsical and friendly.  Gandhi, as the director of the show, did a lot of muttering and running about to ensure final touches were getting done.  Were props in the right place, did the microphones work, and was everyone in costume and prepared to go on stage?

    Despite the broad range of tasks to get done, Rizzotto took a moment to describe her job, which is mostly behind the scenes and “when the curtain goes up,” she said.

    Her job designated her to be “in charge of all aspects technical theatre,” she said.  This is beyond the scope of actors and props.  She set up the cues for lighting.  This means she annotated and told everyone when to change the lighting and the music.  “I control the people who do the things,” she said in reference to the fact that she used a headset to direct those far behind the audience who actually implement the lighting cues Rizzotto designated.

    Besides the little details of getting a show together, the cast managed to have a lot of fun together behind the curtains.

    “I know, I saw you galloping… what is our life?” said Gandhi with  a laugh in reference to Rizzotto’s movements backstage.  They were working and trying to have fun at the same time.  This banter probably resulted from the fact that Rizzotto and Gandhi are roommates.  This further increased their bond, and it seemed to have no undesirable consequences.  If anything, it improved the cohesiveness of their respective jobs because they trusted each other to get everything done.

    20 minutes until show time.

    With just a few minutes left until the curtains rose, Gandhi called for the cast of the show, some members of Pocket Theatre and some technical crew to circle up for some pre-show warm-up games.

    Things got noticeably more intense when Gandhi called for the group to close their eyes and hold hands and to feel the energy available to them.

    She hoped that this energy coursing through them, created by the group, was present in her actors so they were “ready to spill it out during the show,” Gandhi said.

    The play begins.

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