Roll Die and Strike: The Fight Choreography of 'She Kills Monsters'

Thor Mandanis (center, with bow) surrounded by the cast of She Kills Monsters. Credit: Sean Devare

Thor Mandanis (center, with bow) surrounded by the cast of She Kills Monsters. Credit: Sean Devare

[Contains discussions of physically violent content.]

Two sisters, two worlds: a quest fraught with glory, discovery, newfound kinship, and an incongruous amount of queer female empowerment for its setting. You are in Athens, Ohio. It’s the mid-’90s, and the nerdy nostalgia doesn’t let you forget it. If this sounds like every teenage lesbian’s imagination-fueled fantasy draft of a Dungeons and Dragons tabletop scenario, that’s because it is.

In Qui Nguyen’s sweeping, high-energy caper She Kills Monsters, Agnes and Tilly Evans could not be more different. Straight-laced Agnes (Tessa Dougherty ‘20), “the girl who never left home,” teaches high school English and lives an excitement-free life. Tilly (Parker Sela ‘21)’s life, however, bursts with the supernatural and spectacular. Her role-playing games are her window into adventures that reach as far as her wildest dreams, replete with faeries, she-demons and beasts galore. Worlds that Agnes never cared to learn about.

That is, until the real-life Tilly dies unexpectedly, leaving Agnes with her old DnD module and only one choice: to spend all her time wondering what once filled her sister’s mind, or to play the game and find out.

Without spoiling too much of SLC Mainstage’s second winter show, rest assured that the titular “she” does, indeed, kill monsters. Lots of them.

To choreograph the many dynamic battles that Tilly, Agnes, and the rest of their motley crew (Scout Pertofsky ‘20, Julliette Stripling ‘21, Zhe Pan ‘18) engage in, directing team Sean Devare MFA ‘18 and Glenn Potter MFA ‘19 recruited Thor Mandanis ‘18, who has spent over seven years of her life honing the techniques of what she considers an “art of visual storytelling.”

“Physical violence on stage is the...visual manifestation of conflict at its most intense,” she said.

Mandanis belongs to the Society of American Fight Directors as an advanced actor combatant. She has studied many forms of martial art, working on adapting them for stage performance. Between all this, she writes plays: you may have heard of last season’s Rat Park, which focused on queer Millennials in the Hudson Valley.

Much of what she’s learned from combat makes it into her own work.

“I think when we talk about conflict between two characters, there’s a certain point in a conflict where words stop being enough,” Mandanis said. “In a musical that’s usually the point at which the characters burst into song. In the kind of theater that I tend to do, that’s usually the point at which two characters fight.”

“You can learn so much about a character by the way they fight, and...about two characters between the way that they interact physically,” she adds.

When fights happen on stage, we’re talking about massive stakes, according to Mandanis, which makes stories more compelling. But what about heavily stylized fights created in an entirely imaginary world, which—as in movies—often de-emphasizes their impact?

“Stakes can absolutely be inlaid into a script...but I also think that stakes are something that actors and directors can find within their individual projects,” Mandanis said. “I think what’s interesting about the way that that works in She Kills Monsters is that Qui [Nguyen]’s script does a really good job of showcasing the way [that] the fights we have in the game are inherently tied to the conflict that we’re having in real life.”

For instance, in one fight, Tilly is targeted by demonic representations of her high-school tormentors (Kileen McLeary ‘20 and Lily Welsh ‘21).

“Agnes is seeing this manifestation of her sister being victimized,” Thor said. “And [she’s saying], ‘Okay, I couldn’t save my sister when she was alive. Can I save her here?... Can I stop the people that were hurting her?’”

Whether choreographing gritty hand-to-hand combat or a martial art-based battle with swords and magic staffs, Mandanis approaches her job with a balance of realism and thrill. She also tries to avoid that “goofy thing that they do in Hollywood where they really like to have every character get hit like fifty times and just keep getting back on up.”

Obviously, fights can’t happen at real-life speed—they’d be impossible to see. Timing is also key.

“You can’t show the audience everything,” Mandanis said. “You’ve got to give them enough that they get excited and then...stop before they get bored.”

She adds, “I’d rather a character get punched once and have the whole audience gasp than do it ten times and have them feel nothing. So that’s kind of my approach to length.”

Nguyen’s rich script ensures that Mandanis and the actors of She Kills Monsters get to work with pretty much every fantasy weapon imaginable: knives, spears, battle-axes, staffs, and swords in the realm of broadsword and katana. The fighting style, developed by Mandanis herself, incorporates several martial art forms and moves inspired by era-specific TV shows like Samurai Jack.

The production also incorporates puppets (a process headed by co-director Glenn Potter), which Mandanis has not yet encountered in relation to stage combat but has embraced with vigor.

“I’ve been really excited about...doing what I suppose is functionally multimedia stage combat,” she said. “If the character slashes the sword, you can have the monster split in half onstage...the possibilities become so dynamic.”

She Kills Monsters goes up February 15-16 at 7pm and February 17 at 2pm in Open Space. Look out for SLC’s next Mainstage productions, “Shoot, Don’t Talk” and “Rebecca,” February 22-24 in the Cannon.

Peck Tracshel '20

Studying Fashion at Sarah Lawrence a Question of Resources, Perspective

From even the slightest look around campus, one thing is crystal clear: Sarah Lawrence students are into style and clothes. Yet for students interested in studying fashion at the college, whether to support visions of a future in the industry or simply out of curiosity, opportunities may seem surprisingly limited.

This is largely not unique to our school. As a discipline at the intersection of art and design, fashion is approached in diverse ways across the state universities, small liberal arts colleges, and conservatories that offer courses in varying numbers, breadth, and style. It is also a multi-faceted subject that encompasses the technical side of clothes-making — sewing, draping, pattern-making, and so on — as well as the design principles, history, and philosophy behind the clothes.

While there are no courses on fashion per se at SLC, the theatre program currently offers two courses related to clothes-making: Costume Design I and II. Liz Prince, who teaches both courses, stresses that costume design is far more focused than fashion design—it essentially involves communicating the qualities of a character onstage through dress and accessories, whereas fashion can be applied more widely.

Prince notes that these courses, while “[having] a very full approach to allowing students the opportunity to design costumes for student productions,” are highly competitive in space, with fourteen spots per class. It is also difficult for non-theatre thirds to audit as there is already substantial interest from within the theater department. Prince adds: “It really is here to support the theater program and the giant amount of shows they do.”

When asked about the possibility of adding more courses and expanding the program, she explained: “It’s a problem of space…of real estate. The room we have here is but barely adequate to teach what we teach and beyond that, to teach in a more comprehensive way would be very difficult.” And while she does see offering a set of fashion history or theory classes as possible, “it would have to be outside the theater department — they have enough on their plates.” And so the question of how courses in fashion could be fitted into existing departments and curricula, and who would initiate this, remains up in the air.

On the most basic level there is a problem of logistics, but does the lack of fashion courses also point to a deeper problem with how the discipline is perceived?

Gwenda-lin Grewal, who in addition to teaching philosophy at Sarah Lawrence also has her own design company and is currently writing a book on philosophy and fashion, offers the following take. “Costume design sort of makes it seem less flippant…because of course you need costumes for theater, but no one wants to admit that you need costumes for life, which is the whole point of wearing clothes.” She suggests that the inherent superficiality of fashion can be scorned in academia: “jettisoned as not part of art” or “somehow demoted as a lesser art,” which might be another reason why many schools don’t offer fashion courses.

And yet, Grewal argues, “part of what it means to be human is to fashion oneself”, and “rather than a lofty shallow activity for airheads, everybody participates in this activity whether they know it or not.” In recognition of this, she has taught a popular course in the past called Philosophy and Fashion, which dealt with the role of style and appearance in philosophy, as well as the philosophy of our complex relationship with clothes. While not currently on rotation, she is considering bringing it back.

Otherwise, Sarah Lawrence academics don’t offer much in the way of fashion at the moment — but there’s ways to get around it and get an education in it anyway. Prince emphasizes the value of building a strong artistic foundation that will help in any field of design, which after all “is all about what you know and what you can imagine.” She recommends taking as many kinds of visual arts classes as possible — sculpture, painting, life and figure drawing, or anything at all — “to get to know the elements of design through actually creating with color and texture and line…which all come into play when you’re working with clothing.”

Prince also suggests taking an interdisciplinary approach by focusing conference projects in any subjects from chemistry to economics on topics such as fashion sustainability, clothing science and technology, marketing, and others deeply relevant to the industry.

Prince concludes: “There’s many ways to get quite a bit of what you would get in fashion school through a liberal arts education. Within your studies here you can probably find a way into making it veer towards your interest, and then perhaps have internships in the summertime.”

For a more focused experience, there’s also the option of taking part in the new Sarah Lawrence Fashion and Design Club. Founded by Dani Berris (‘21) this year, the club will allow fashion-oriented students to “come together and bond, talk about fashion, share our favorite looks, share our favorite designers, and eventually…start sketching out ideas” said Berris. Once all sketches have been finalized, members will vote on their favorite designs, and the club will spend the rest of year making those designs with sewing machines (“which the administration will hopefully fund!”).

Berris also has plans for putting on fashion show at the end of the year that is inclusive and political. She muses: “We could get students to model it and make it a very activist fashion show by getting like people who identify as male to model traditionally female clothing. I think that would really represent Sarah Lawrence spirit and attitude.”

Finally, there are incredible resources off-campus in New York City. For those who’d like a more rigorous training in the techniques of clothes-making, Prince suggests heading over to the Fashion Institute of Technology, which offers courses throughout the school year as well as summer institutes on sewing, draping, flat pattern-making, and other hands-on courses. And to further expand one's fashion vocabulary, it’s always valuable and fun to go see gallery shows and fashion exhibits at the Metropolitan Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Costume Institute at F.I.T.

So don’t lose heart — there are plenty of ways to get a rough approximate of fashion training. And for those who have professional aspirations in the fashion industry, Grewal offers the following advice: “You can drop yourself in the world simply by meeting the right people and networking, just putting yourself out there.” Immerse yourself in fashion in any way you can, cultivate and show off your style through social media (especially Instagram, the fashion world’s chosen network), and, she advises, just be your stylish self. Above all, Grewal stresses: “You can’t be intimidated by the nature of it. You have to believe that it’s possible.”

Chelsea Liu '21


SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

Making a (Preteen) Murderer: The Developmental Process of “Horse Girls”



This review contains “Horse Girls” spoilers and a trigger warning for physically violent content.

We’ve all met them. The “pretty-in-pink” girls, the “princesses,” the ones who become popular as the concept of exclusion solidifies in their young brains. Identical in personality and interests, they braid each other’s hair, raid the toy boxes for rhinestones and horse figurines. Not to generalize—but yes, we know them. We might have even been them.

“Horse Girls”, Jenny Rachel Weiner’s 50-minute, hilariously dark ditty about drama, death and Ann Romney, focuses on six such girls and the trials and tribulations of their entitled lives.

Through a mix of enticement and intimidation, affluent twelve-year-old equestrian Ashleigh (Georgia Cohen ‘18) comfortably commands her primly uniformed posse, the Lady Jean Ladies riding club (Juno Adams ‘20, Claire Bronchick ‘20, Charlotte Davis ‘21, Lila Gould ‘21, Samantha Raskin ‘21). All the girls have one thing in common, the one thing that matters: they would literally die for their horses.

As the Ladies’ weekly meeting begins, we’re left bewildered by the group’s near-cultish nature. (Levelheaded, liberal outsider Trish (Mariel Sanchez ‘18), the visiting cousin of a member, provides an appropriate reality check.) But before long, a shattering rumor arrives, and things go from mildly odd to mildly disturbing: Ashleigh’s parents have made plans to sell their stables and have their horses slaughtered.

As one might expect from a middle-school satire, everything derails.

The girls go into hysterics. Secrets come out, power structures collapse. And as everything Ashleigh has worked for falls apart quicker than she can process or prevent, she deals with some irreversible wounds of her own. The subsequent bloodbath results in two characters left alive.

Director Allison Kelly (MFA ‘18), who has Los Angeles-based roots in devised theatre, approached the production with an intent to create a collaborative atmosphere.

“I was very open to directing with the cast rather than simply directing them,” Kelly said. “A lot of information that was brought to light came from the cast and their relationship with the script.”

After only a couple of read-throughs, Kelly spurred the actors out of their books and onto the stage, allowing the initial “table work” (the process of developing character based on text in the play) to happen in real time.

“When you’re devising, you have to learn how to relieve yourself of pressure and follow your instincts and impulses,” Kelly explains. “[The actors] found a lot of stuff on their feet that I don’t think they would have found if they were at the table.”

“It was great to watch,” adds assistant director Spencer Knoll (‘19, of SLC independent theatre production and stage management fame). “Every actress had a moment where she got it, it clicked, and seeing them make the connections for themselves was really wonderful.”

But the play does much more than parody classic clique stories with its high-stakes hilarity. Horse Girls may not present an entirely realistic scenario, but it still confronts the fact that people who hurt others exist. Where does it come from? And how can it be stopped?

“As dark and intense and outrageous as it seems, the root of the story isn’t about horses at all,” Kelly says.  “It’s about relationships between people—specifically between preteen girls and how cruel they can be.”

Performing this play requires a cast of actors young enough to remember the crushing isolation of middle and high school (the fear of being saddled with the responsibility of growing up, of trying to find themselves) but old enough to reflect on those times with added knowledge, experience, and maturity.

“In another way, [the play] also spreads a message of empathy,” Kelly says. “The memory of being bullied in some way is present in a lot of colleges. [So] we talked a lot about our personal histories and relationships to bullying.”

But it turns out that both Kelly and lead Cohen agree on one point: no one deserves that empathy more than Ashleigh herself—the bully.“ [She is] the most terrified person in the play,” Kelly admits. “The cruelty is a by-product of how troubled she is.”

“There were reasons behind her meanness,” Cohen explains. “It wasn’t that she was...totally evil. It came from insecurity and not knowing where she stands in her school or in society, or what she’s going to be when she’s older. I mean, horses—how permanent of a profession is that, really?”

“She didn’t walk into the meeting that day going, ‘I’m going to kill these people and become a murderer.’ All of it came from a place of fear, which led to escalation, and it just got out of her hands.”

Ridiculed in her youth because of her weight, Ashleigh gathered most of her friends after donning her popularity mask, Cohen says. Her parents, who never appear in the play, ignore her.

Perhaps it wasn’t that Ashleigh was misunderstood, but that she simply didn’t receive what she needed in her formative years. It doesn’t excuse any of her actions, but it makes for a more compelling stage presence on Cohen’s behalf—who agrees that the “meatiest roles” belong to villains anyway.

“She doesn’t know how to [form real relationships],” Cohen says. “She’s not able to have a relationship that’s not based on power, and I think that comes from her feeling that...if you strip her of everything, her bare-bone self isn’t enough. It seems that the only reason she even has this horse club is because of the...things she’s physically able to give to people, rather than them just wanting to be with her.”

There’s a mix of feeling threatened by the open and honest personalities of the other girls, and wanting to keep them around by any means possible. Which is why the loss of her family’s stables ignites such a repressed, primal fear within her.

“It’s a desperate sense of not wanting to be alone, and wanting people to love her,” she says. “And clearly” —she laughs—“that goes way south.”

Peck Trachsel ‘20

Sarah Lawrence College’s production of Horse Girls ran October 5-7 in Open Space.


SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

A Rocky Season for Rocky Horror Picture Show

sPRING 2017 ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW CAST. photo courtesy of rachel barkowitz.

sPRING 2017 ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW CAST. photo courtesy of rachel barkowitz.

Last Saturday, in the PAC’s Reisinger Auditorium, Sarah Lawrence kicked off Sleaze Week early with this semester’s shadowcast production of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. In its day, the 1975 B-list sci-fi horror movie/musical parody broke ground with its celebration of sexuality in all its forms—and on this campus, it still does.  

But several weeks into the rehearsal process, the Rocky Horror team’s performance was in jeopardy when they ran into an unprecedented budget issue. SAS, Student Activities Subcommittee, who provides funding for a number of campus events, including SLC traditions such as Rocky, informed club heads in early March that they had run out of funds for spring semester. Without funding, the cast and crew found themselves unable to pay for the rights to perform the show. 

Rachel Raiola (‘18), assistant director, explained, “Basically what happened was that SAS sent out that email right before spring break saying that they out of funding for that semester, and we knew there was a chance that they would receive more funding in the future but we didn’t want to take the risk of waiting around. Our show date [was] April 15th, and I think that was four weeks away at that point—we just didn’t think it would be smart to take a risk and wait, so we ended up crowdfunding the show on our own.”

She added, however, “We want to emphasize that we only did this because we thought it was an emergency situation, and that in the future we would love to rely entirely on Student Senate and student funding.”

Director Rachel Barkowitz (‘18) agreed. “This was only something that we did because we felt as though we had to, we felt as though we didn’t have another option.”

The crowdfunding process was a huge success. “$600 was the goal, and we raised it in 16 hours from 16 people or something ridiculous like that,” Barkowitz said. “It’s just an incredible feeling to know that we have that amount of support, and it was an unfortunate situation to be in, but I guess we were feeling a little stuck and wanted to make sure the show would go on—no matter what was going to happen.”

The Rocky team was able to put on the show as planned. 

The performance, which goes up every semester, exists somewhere between the boundaries of film and stage. Each student actor, fully costumed and in character, lip-synchs in front of the movie while copying their onscreen character’s movements in real time.

“The thing about directing Rocky is that it’s all laid out for you, in the film and from previous it’s mostly just a matter of learning the movie and learning how to translate it onto an actual stage and teaching the actors,” Raiola said. “So we’re in a unique position because our actors are...doing a lot of acting based on something, but we still do a lot of [character] work and when somebody is struggling to understand the motivation behind an action in a scene, we [as directors] like to fill in the gaps.”

“There are definitely moments in this film in which there are subtle connections between characters that you won’t necessarily get when you’re watching the movie, or acting in the show for the first time,” Barkowitz added. “But it’s something that as a director you’re aware of and you can tell people who might be newer to the...process of being in Rocky Horror as a way to help them create the character.”

According to Barkowitz, the SLC Rocky directors have a duty to uphold when instructing student actors on how to capture the nuances of iconic movie characters. As a worldwide cult classic, Rocky Horror is already steeped in a great deal of traditions. For example, showings include “callbacks,” where audience members yell during performances.

“There are certain traditions that it’s our job to carry on,” Raiola said. “‘Cause there are people...who’ve been doing this for years and years, and people who come back every year to see this show—for some ungodly reason,” she laughed.

“I think one of the most important things about Rocky for me is upholding the tradition of having it in the first place,” Barkowitz added. “We’re lucky that we’ve got kids that want to come back...and do the show again and again. One of the questions that we ask on our audition forms is ‘Would you be interested in directing Rocky in the future?’ and it’s kind of nice to know that the tradition is upheld by the people that are so dedicated to it from the get-go.”

Both Barkowitz and Raiola are longtime Rocky veterans themselves. Raiola has played several main cast roles, including “hero” Brad Majors, “heroine” Janet Weiss, and not-so-“domestic” Magenta. Barkowitz, on the opposite end, has performed in the ensemble enough times to know each group scene by heart. This deep understanding of the various character roles allows for a masterful collaboration when  the two are placed together in the director’s chairs.

“The two of us balance each other out,” Barkowitz explained. “When there’s more ensemble-heavy dance number kind of stuff, I take the lead, and when it’s more cut-and-copy scene stuff, Rachel [Raiola] takes the lead.”

Although tradition is all well and good, the show also a evolves and modernizes with each new production. 

“Every year, we update it, and there are certain scenes that we change, and we add dance numbers and funny pop culture references and we try to make it timely,” Barkowitz said. “Last semester we threw a High School Musical dance in there in the middle of the show.” This semester’s performance included a lip-synced duet of the Jonas Brothers’ “Burnin’ Up” and a riveting interpretation of the Harlem Shake.

With all the rockiness of this season’s Rocky Horror show, no one knows exactly what the future of SLC Rocky will hold, but based on the overwhelmingly positive response from both crowdfunders and audience members, this tradition that many value. When asked about the cultural relevance of the film, in particular to Sarah Lawrence student life, Barkowitz and Raiola had a number of things to say.

“I think that it speaks to the timeless manner of the film, that this is something we continue to do,” Barkowitz said. “Perhaps the representation has changed, and perhaps it is not as PC of a film or as it was in 1975, but I think that the tradition, if nothing else, is the reason why it continues.”

“If you like horror musicals, or science fiction, or camp, this is the perfect movie for you,” Raiola said. “I think that’s part of the reason people come back year after year, it’s because they just enjoy this shitty, weird movie so much. It’s a place where you get to hang out with your other weird friends and make weird art together.”

“It’s enigmatic, for lack of a better word,” Barkowitz concluded. “[But] it’s definitely an immersive experience for everyone involved.”

Peck Trachsel ('20)

*Correction: The article previously said SLAC was responsible for student activities funding, but that responsibility belongs to SAS.

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

Fefu and Her Friends: Discovering Intimacy

The cast of  Fefu and Her Friends . Photo Credit: Leonie Bell '17 MFA Theatre

The cast of Fefu and Her Friends. Photo Credit: Leonie Bell '17 MFA Theatre

SLC Mainstage’s reimagining of the play Fefu and Her Friends, originally written and produced in 1977 by Cuban-American playwright María Irene Fornés, challenges a number of physical and emotional boundaries in terms of staging. In fact, even before the show’s run, it was widely circulated that this production would break Sarah Lawrence ground with its unusual venue. 

Instead of using one of Sarah Lawrence’s many black box or proscenium stages, Fefu took place in Westlands Admissions. Director Katie Pedro (‘17 Theatre MFA ) discussed the process of choosing this performance space to fit the show’s particular needs. “I did not always know that I was going to do it at Westlands,” she said. “I had this first idea that was completely different, that it happened in a dance studio.” After she scrapped that plan, she took a walk around campus, finally discovering the perfect location. “I had never been to admissions, because I’m a graduate student, so we don’t ever go there,” she said. “And when I walked in, it was just like, ‘This is the place; it has to happen here. It was practically made for it.’”

Furnishing Westlands to accommodate Fefu wasn’t a large stretch set-wise; the building already contains several lavish furniture pieces fit for the play’s 1930’s New England setting. 

The building also benefits from a previously unrecognized capacity for LED lighting— an addition that the student body might have noticed about Westlands in these past few nights. 

Pedro hadn’t considered special lighting a priority until her collaborator Luke Miller (‘17 Theatre MFA) - a designer and production manager for DownStage -  suggested installing LEDs. In soft shades of green and pink, the ground lighting added an otherworldly vibe to the outdoor scenes during night performances. “[It allowed] the third act be less naturalistic,” Pedro said. “I cannot describe how much it added to my vision. I do a lot of image work, and [Miller’s] really great at pulling from that.”

But one reason for staging Fefu in Westlands, which rose above all others in importance, was that it actually affected thematic as well as spatial elements of the play. Fornés herself intended for the third act of Fefu to consist of a sequence of scenes that take place simultaneously in different areas of the performance space; naturally, presenting the play in a multiple-roomed building worked spectacularly. 

One thing Fornés—and Pedro—hoped to encourage with their staging was the idea of unintentional eavesdropping. “You can kind of always hear Julia, and the sounds of the slaps or the gunshot, and when you’re in the living room you can hear the scene outside,” Pedro explained. “It was exciting to me to see audience members hear something and look and be distracted by it, because that was something I was really interested in.”

Poster for  Fefu and Her Friends . Photo credit: Andrea Cantor '17

Poster for Fefu and Her Friends. Photo credit: Andrea Cantor '17

Each room, as its own enclosed performance space, also encourages an intimate relationship between the players and the audience.

“This play is really Brechtian in nature… [but] I did not want to stage it to be overtly Brechtian, where we’re really isolating the audience, so I think that the intimacy of the space actually goes really well with that,” Pedro said of her approach. “Intimacy and transparency kind of fought each other in how I staged the play, and I think that really worked. And it was hard for the actors too, because there are moments where they’re having these really intimate lovers’ fights that we as an audience really feel and understand, and then a stage manager gets up and pulls you to a different place.”

Even so, it’s a test of the strength of an actor’s relationship to their character to find moments of intimacy that the director might not see. Although Pedro isn’t a fan of fourth-wall breaks, which she believes are employed far too often in comedy and have devolved into a tired technique, she still recognizes their ability to elicit a quick but powerful audience reaction. According to Pedro, actor Dvorah Gitlitz (‘20), who played the role of Paula, felt the need to cross that boundary during a rehearsal of an impassioned monologue: doing so with results that awed Pedro.

“We ended up keeping it. It had to stay That was really exciting, that moment of, ‘Oh, they’re really starting to understand this play and what’s important about it,’” Pedro said. “I was excited that we had a rehearsal environment where they could break the rules— and when they knew that they should.”

Peck Trachsel '20


SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

The Musical Theatre Collective Prepares for First Production

Carousel rehersal. Photo credit: Andrea cantor '17

Carousel rehersal. Photo credit: Andrea cantor '17

When Molly Stricker (’17) and Aidan Cleary (’17) recognized the need for musical theater at Sarah Lawrence, they decided to form a club of their own. The Musical Theatre Collective started at the beginning of this semester and has already made waves on the college’s performing arts scene.
The production group does weekly workshops on Mondays in the Cannon Theatre to help students prepare songs for auditions or for the group’s monthly cabarets. The group is currently getting ready for next week, when they are set to put on their first musical production, Rodgers and Hamerstein’s Carousel.
Sticker, the co-artistic director of the collective and assistant director of Carousel, explained the importance of the group. “It’s really aiming to fill the holes in the theater department. The department doesn't do really any musical theater training. They do about one musical a year. From our experience it has usually been a workshop or an experimental musical, so not your mainstream kind of Broadway,” the aspiring theater director said.
The group has certainly made an impact on campus’ theater community, with over 20 students - both undergraduate and graduate - performing in the production of Carousel. Faculty member Bill Shullenberger also makes his stage debut as the Starkeeper. But aside from the production, the group has provided a safe haven for first year students still figuring out their way through college.
Ella Hartley (’20), assistant director of the collective’s cabarets and a part of Carousel’s ensemble, explained how integral the group has been to her first year at college. “I don't know what my first semester being here would be like without it,” she said. “It’s given me access to relationships with people that I wouldn’t have had.” Hartley also described how the group has helped her transition from high school to college. “I have been able to face those issues that I have had throughout the semester through musical theater and with the help of this community that has been created by Molly and Aiden. It’s the most important thing that I’m doing here so far.”
Carousel, which goes up December 9th and runs through the 11th in Open Space Theatre, is not a happy-go-lucky Rodgers and Hammerstein musical like Oklahoma. Rather, the show presents themes of abuse and death by centering on the tumultuous marriage of Billy Bigelow and Julie Jordan. 
Stricker explained the musical choice: “Since it’s the first in this wave of heavy, real musicals that actually explore things in life, we thought it would be the perfect show to start our productions.”
In putting on Carousel, one of the biggest feats is furnishing the production with props: namely, as the title would suggest, a carousel. But the Sarah Lawrence production has a more bare-bones approach to the set, which lacks the structure. This staging limitation is partially due to the financial restraints of the collective; the student senate sponsored less than $5,000 for the organization.
Cleary, the co-artistic director of the collective and director of Carousel, discussed how the limited resources surprisingly allowed for more creativity. “We wanted to bring experimental theater to commercial theater and see if it would work,” he explained. “If you strip away all the big, fancy things, does the show still work? Is it the text or is it the money that makes the theater work? That is something both Molly and I are really interested in. For me, for Carousel, it’s the text.”
Even without the extravagant props, the Sarah Lawrence students pulled together a riveting show that showcased the musical talent that flourishes on this campus.
Jaela Cheeks-Lomax (’17), the powerhouse singer who plays the lead in Carousel, discussed her role as Julie Jordan: “What is really interesting about this show is that it is talking about something that is pretty revolutionary for the time period when Rogers and Hammerstein first wrote this. The show talks about a woman who is really in a predicament and in an abusive relationship, but really loves this man. It is really interesting to play a character like that.”
Caroline Burkhart (’19), the supporting actress who plays Carrie Pepperidge, talked about the process. “We started rehearsing two months ago, but I came in late to the process because I was in Macbeth. We started off with music rehearsals and then we did the blocking and now we are doing a bunch of runs, which is really great. I think we are ahead of the game with the runs."
Lomax and Burkhart are the definite showstoppers of Carousel. The actresses have goose-bump worthy vocal ranges, and each garner different emotional responses from the audience. Lomax embodies the love-torn woman, especially in the song “If I loved You.” Burkhart provides the much needed comic relief, which she pulls off masterfully with dynamic gestures and inflections in such songs as “You’re a Queer One, Julie Jordan and Mr. Snow.”
Other noteworthy players include Colin Magerle (‘18) as main character Billy Bigelow, and Evan Poe (‘20) in supporting role of Enoch Snow, each of whom make noteworthy male counterparts and deliver strong performances.Together the ensemble works harmoniously, as best showcased in the number, “Blow High, Blow Low.”
All in all, this is a well performed, dark but comedic musical and is an impressive first showing from the newly formed Musical Theatre Collective.

Tickets for the show are available on the Musical Theatre Collective’s Facebook page:
Andrea Cantor ‘17

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

Call Westlands Calls on Students

Call westlands rehersal. Photo credit: Katy GRESKOVICH '19 

Call westlands rehersal. Photo credit: Katy GRESKOVICH '19 

Call Westlands, one of Sarah Lawrence College’s newest student-run performance groups, was born out of rejection: “[Four of us] had all auditioned for Lampoon and we didn’t get in,” explained member Amara Greco (‘19), club alias “The Goth One.” “I can’t speak for anyone else, but I was feeling kind of frustrated with having no comedic outlet. If I didn’t get into Lampoon, I couldn’t get into anything else because there are no other opportunities on campus. So this was kind of doing something for ourselves, and it didn’t matter if it was bad or of if it was good, or if people liked it or not.”
The comedy sketch troupe came to life in September, on a night when the majority of the soon to be members had gathered in The Pub. What started as a casual dinner turned into a three hour discussion about forming Call Westlands. Today the group is dedicated to writing, performing, filming and editing their own comedic sketches. The troupe members—Greco, Katy Greskovich (‘19), Austen Halpern-Graser (‘19), Jorry Jenkins-Snaith (‘19), Jenny Hong (‘19), Matt Landry-McWilliams (‘19), and their newest member Khalifah Jamison ('19)—meet weekly to brainstorm, workshop and produce original sketches.
Greskovich, alias “The Optimistic One,” agreed that there were not enough opportunities on campus for students interested in comedy. “[Lampoon] is clearly a very exclusive group, but there are so many more people on this campus who have a comedy heart, a comedy jewel to let shine. We want this group to be functional, but we also don’t want it to be exclusive at all, and we want it to be the opportunity for students to create comedy that doesn’t have to go through the department— or anyone else.”
Beyond aiming to create an inclusive comedy group, the Call Westlands members were also keen to produce sketches rather than improv— an emphasis that is setting the group apart: “We specifically wanted to do sketch comedy; we didn’t ever want to seem like we were competing with Lampoon, because the majority of what they do is improv,” explained Landry-McWilliams, alias “The Gay One.” “But some people who are not as [informed about] our group think that we are just salty people who didn’t get into Lampoon,” he added with a laugh.
The group’s first live show took place on Oct. 20 and was a huge success. While initially worried that people would not enjoy their sense of humor, the members were pleased by the positive response to the sketches.
“I was satisfied. We had a great turn-out; we filled the audience,” Greskovitch reported. "The support we got was really great. I think for some people we definitely put out a funky sense of humor. But not one sketch bombed, necessarily, in my mind."
“I’m proud of everybody for stretching their limits,” Greco said. “Jenny was definitely very uncomfortable with being an actor, and she still did it. I’m sure if most people had the choice, they would choose for someone else act in it, but we didn’t really have that option. Everyone was just so committed to the group that they just decided to do it.”
In spite of their warm reception, many of the current members have pointed out that Call Westlands is still in flux; they are open to the idea of more students joining, but aren’t sure how the specifics will play out. Halpern-Graser, alias “The One Who Looks Like a Squirrel,” admitted: “Right now we are pretty formless. I feel like we are still trying to find our voice as a group.”
“I love the idea of new members joining,” Landry-McWilliams said, ”We want this to be an outlet for comedy for our school, and a good collaborative place to really work out ideas and to build on ourselves.”
While most of the current members are studying film or theatre at SLC, the group wants to encourage students of all disciplines to participate: “I think that [including different areas of study] helps create a more cohesive whole,”  Halpern-Graser explained, "I feel like you need people from all walks of life to make a family.”
And while the membership process will not be as strict as Lampoon’s, Call Westlands will have some guidelines.
“At least for people who are acting in shows, we would want auditions for it, but inherently it can’t be as exclusive as Lampoon. They only have a certain number of spots that you can be let into. With us, that’s not the case,” Greco said.
Though there are no specific requirements according to Greskovich and Greco, students who are interested have to demonstrate commitment, passion and collaboration.
Call Westlands plans to produce one or two more videos this semester and is looking forward to tightening their lineup for the future. “Next semester, hopefully, you’ll see a much more official group,” Landry-McWilliams said.
Alexa Di Luca ‘19



SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

The Downstage Family

2016-2017 Downstage Theatre Company members. Photo Credit: Alexandra Gontard '17

2016-2017 Downstage Theatre Company members. Photo Credit: Alexandra Gontard '17

The DownStage Theatre Company occupies a space unlike any other within Sarah Lawrence’s diverse theatre community—and I’m not just talking about DownStage itself, which is the elusive black box situated in the belly of the Performing Arts Center. 

Technically, DownStage belongs to the SLC curriculum. The course catalogue describes it as “an intensive, hands-on conference in theatrical production.” Each member of the production company plays a role in building a show from scratch, whether it be selecting plays, updating social media, selecting actors, directing, designing, budgeting, and more. As a theatre component, taught by Graeme Gillis and offered to upperclassmen and graduate students, DownStage meets twice a week and receives the benefit of its own school-provided budget. At the same time, DownStage identifies as its own independent theatre company, unaffiliated with Mainstage or any other theatre group on campus. 

Samuel DeMattio ‘19, DownStage’s co-literary manager, described DownStage’s position as a “happy medium” between SLC’s major Mainstage productions and the smaller-scale, but no less profound, independently produced shows, such as those put on by the Melancholy Players.

“Mainstage shows are...very, very grand productions that focus more on story than, necessarily, acting or design elements, and then Melancholy [Players] shows are like these beautifully intimate, really raw, artistic stories,” DeMattio explained. ”DownStage is great because it’s somewhere in the middle. We have a few more technical elements than Melancholy can do — like, just being under the department; we have a lighting board, we have gel lights, we have the toys to play with, which is nice, but at the same time, it’s not these big, grand productions done in huge theaters, it’s still very intimate in a black box.”

Luke Miller MFA ’17, theatre tech extraordinaire and DownStage’s co-production manager, added that while Mainstage most often employs faculty, DownStage does its best to focus on the student voice. “We know what the student body is really wanting... what areas are not being explored in Mainstage,” he said. “And then we can take that on, we can tackle that in real time, in the moment, as needs arise, and it puts us in a really unique position that no one else can really fill.”

Another aspect that differentiates DownStage from every other theatre company is its yearly reinvention. Recently, the members of DownStage released this year’s mission statement, focused around family and how the word carries a different meaning for each individual. As part of the statement runs, “We all come from many cultures, yet the theatre ties us together. We aim to explore the concept of family, be they blood families or found families; the people who make us intrinsically who we are. We invite you to explore your voice, and weave the tapestry of stories that bind us together.”

“We create a new mission statement, and we choose our season, and we basically redefine DownStage as a theatre company every year it exists,” said Elizabeth Pritchett-Montavon ‘17, company manager. This year, DownStage welcomes us to their family.

DeMattio described the process: “Our mission statement took a while to come together...we really talked about it for hours and hours and hours on end,” he said. “Miller and I had settled on this idea of the human condition, and everyone else in the group loved it but felt it was a little too broad, so then Mariel [Sanchez] had the idea of focusing that on family, ‘cause that’s something that’s innately a part of every single human being...everyone has some sense of family, some sense of home.”

Pritchett-Montavon also pointed out that the process brought about so much more than just a written statement about family—it helped create one. “The majority of us had never worked together,” she said. “So it was also working together as a group to both get into the year working as a theatre company...and to find out what our identity as DownStage was going to be.”

For the first performance of their season, DownStage brings us Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike—a humorous piece centered around a dysfunctional family who loves each other through their flaws.

“[It’s] a very broad comedy that is like a riff, it’s a joke on Chekhov’s 4 greatest plays. So it’s so, so funny, especially if you’ve read Chekhovian literature, because it’s all jokes about Chekhov—which our group is really happy with,” DeMattio said of DownStage’s selection. “We typically do a lot of contemporary and new work at Sarah Lawrence, so it brings in a classical element...which is nice,” he added. 

Just another way in which the extraordinary members of DownStage strive to break boundaries.

Note: Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike runs from November 17-19, at 9pm (Nov. 17 & 19) and 10:30pm (Nov. 18). Also look out for Steel Magnolias, DownStage’s next production, December 9-11.

Peck Trachsel '20

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

ARICAMA: A Galactic Landing Review

The cast of aricama: a galactic landing. photo credit: Hyung SEOk JEON

The cast of aricama: a galactic landing. photo credit: Hyung SEOk JEON

When I walked into rehearsal two weeks ago for Sarah Lawrence Theatre’s first Mainstage production, ARICAMA: A Galactic Landing, the first thing I saw was a space transformed. The dark, wooden black-box-style Cannon Theater floor had been covered with a powder-green carpet and colorful flowers were scattered across the stage. A large set piece resembling a tub of pure water lay stage left, and the yellow lights created a glad atmosphere. The first word that came to my mind was “life,” and that was before I saw any of the actors perform. 

Aricama follows Doodly Dalida, an Earthling sent by his home planet as part of a distress call, and Amy Fufu, a newly reincarnated Aricamian native who becomes his reluctant foster mother. As the pair navigate a world unfamiliar to both of them, the members of the Aricamian High Council begin arranging a “Lime Pet”—a ceremony that prepares for Aricamians to travel to Earth in response to the distress call.

So, who are these Aricamians? How do their ways and their world differ from our own? Technically, they are aliens, and at first glance seem to have very little in common with us. But their creator, grad student Maria Camia MFA’17, sees them as something akin to the new and improved version of humanity—without all the negative connotation that might come with that description.

Camia first started considering the concept of Aricama because of the negativity and conflict present in today’s society—which, thanks to news and social media, is more visible and invasive than ever before. “There was a time when I actually got sucked into it, and then I thought, “Oh my God...what do we do about this?” Camia said. “Then I think, Wait a’s just the love and attention and care for each other, which is a lesson that we are learning through these really intense conflicts.” She felt that the solution to all conflict comes down to a single universal lesson, “[the need for] love, and respect, and appreciation, and cooperation, and unity.”

With that lesson in mind, Camia began to imagine a world populated by the “ideal human,” someone who has experienced enough growth to rise above suffering and embrace joy. She envisioned what that world might look, sound and feel like, and thus, Aricama was born—a planet inhabited by a fully evolved group of people who “vibrate on a higher line of being.” 

“[They] can see past struggle, or the physical world,” Camia said. “[There’s] a knowing that from your intention you can make or you can have all that you desire, beyond all the egotistical mind.”

The aricamians. Photo credit:  HYUNG SEOK JEON

The aricamians. Photo credit: HYUNG SEOK JEON

In layman’s terms, Camia’s Aricamians have attained a truly utopian society. Throughout the play, they give thanks to the earth and to each other. They sing, they dance, they live life to the fullest. They express themselves entirely with every movement they make, and they seem to be the happiest when just being themselves. Watching the actors, who embraced the Aricamian mindset with admirable commitment, left me grinning from ear to ear during the entire production.

But according to the actors, adopting that mindset takes time, concentration and a few unusual techniques. Matt Landry-McWilliams ‘19–who played Aricamian native Green and council members, Octet and Ticket– opened up about some of the methods the ensemble used to get into character, discussing the use of meditation as a mind-focusing exercise.

“I’ve never done a show before, like for a warm-up, but I find it amazing. ‘Cause even though this new world is a lot more animated and energetic than what we usually are, meditating really helps us get there, for some reason...And it just really helps us get centered, definitely, after a long day of classes and work,” he added.

Miranda Lee ‘19, who played the council’s secretary, agreed. “[The meditation] is amazing, and it makes me feel so happy.”

She shared a story about another unique exercise, which she considered one of her favorite cast moments:

“We played this game where everyone had to walk around all gloomy and stuff, but there were a few cheerful people and you had to surround the person who was gloomy and...hurl compliments at them, and basically just gather until everyone was happy,” she said. “And somehow at the end only [one person] was left and she was...actually putting in effort to run away, and I don’t know how, but everybody started to advance towards her singing the ‘I love you’ song from Barney, and it was actually really adorable.”

Another thing that makes this show so uniquely whimsical is the hand-operated puppets, each a member of the Aricamian High Council. At Sarah Lawrence, Camia initially studied sculpture and extended media, but she admitted that "everything I made always turned into...a costume piece or a performance, or just like a puppet show or puppet video." She took her interest in the subject further by training at Peter Schumann’s Bread and Puppet Theater in Vermont, and later with master puppeteer Basil Twist and his New York-based company.

Camia also cited Jim Henson as an inspiration, which might explain the inclusion of both puppets and full-bodied characters in the show’s ensemble cast. Landry-McWilliams, a theater veteran but a novice puppeteer, discussed the differences between puppet acting and body acting.

“The Aricamians have to use their entire body to act,” he said. “They have a very big connection with touch, and they just love to interact with other people in ways that we wouldn’t normally interact, while the puppets...we have to transfer all our energy up into the puppet. You will not be able to see our facial expressions...we have to use a special dialect to make our emotions really shown in the puppet voices.”

Actors performing with puppets. Photo credit:  HYUNG SEOK JEON

Actors performing with puppets. Photo credit: HYUNG SEOK JEON

Although the utopian nature of Aricama might indicate otherwise, Camia doesn’t eschew conflict altogether. She feels that experiencing conflict is one of the crucial steps to attaining a higher consciousness, and says that Sarah Lawrence professor Cassandra Medley helped her come to this realization. 

“[Cassandra] always says, ‘You need more conflict,’ and I would always fight that, I’m like, ‘No you don’t, you don’t need conflict all the time.’ But this way of being is like [learning] to appreciate the lower before the higher, it’s like learning that I need to come down to this lower plane, here, to bring it up.” 

Amy Fufu, Aricama’s divergent protagonist, proves this point. As a newborn with a highly ascended mind but an initially selfish drive, she experiences a lot of self-conflict while trying to learn and discover as quickly as possible. “She’s [a] very driven, somewhat anxious young woman who...has lived many lives and had many experiences,” Hallie Riddick ‘20 says of her character. “She doesn’t remember a lot of her previous life, but her power and her drive to obtain a better evolution is still there...Through learning the Aricamian lessons of kindness, and patience, she remembers a lot of the lessons she’s learned in the past life.”

Watching the world of Aricama unfold before my eyes, I found it hard to remember that this play was workshopped over the course of four short weeks. The acting and blocking looked like the product of a much longer rehearsal period, but even so, Camia and her actors agreed that timing was the most difficult part of the whole process.

“This is such a quick process...and it’s only a workshop,” Camia said instantly after I asked about obstacles. “What I come in with is so heavy, because there’s so much set, there’s so much music and costume...there’s so much to work with within such a short period of time, and then also being a student at the same’s this balance that I’m still figuring out.”

But at the same time, there seems to be a burgeoning excitement that comes with so much unfamiliarity. The theater program at Sarah Lawrence is well-known for picking up student-written, never-before-produced shows and letting willing directors and actors make them their own.

“When I got to Sarah Lawrence, I really got to dive into devising, and really developing shows from the ground up,” Landry-McWilliams says. “This is a brand-new have to find these characters by yourself, from the outside, like, to see, ‘Oh, in past productions they did this.’ So we have to find how to do it by ourselves, and it’s such a great ensemble-bonding too, like, we really get to work with one another and find new things about the characters, about the show.”

Clearly, so much cooperation paid off. Everything, from the carefully constructed accents to the lack of an intermission, made it possible and even easy to stay immersed within Camia’s world. Very early on in the performance, I started letting go of outside thoughts and started feeling instead. I was there, observing a world that intended “joy and abundance for ALL.” And I didn’t want to leave.

Peck Trachsel '20

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.