In a dance studio on the sixth floor of Memorial Hall, five strangers play theater games and make strange noises in a circle. It is here, in student-led theater troupe Beyond the Proscenium’s (BTP) fall show, “Circle Mirror Transformation,” that the audience is required to take off their shoes and suspend their belief as they are immersed in the lives of its minimal cast: a drama teacher, her husband, a divorced carpenter, a former actress and a high school junior.

Directed by Cordelia Orbach ’17, the show follows a theater class at a local community center in rural Vermont. Although the characters lead drastically different lives, their interactions with one another provide relatable snapshots of everyday life.

“Acting is an exercise in empathy. It’s about learning about other people and trying to know them and figure out what makes them tick,” Orbach said. “The world is big and we are just college students. But our lives are real and our struggles are felt, and that’s an important part of this show.” 

According to Orbach, the range of character experiences in the show produces an appreciation of the seemingly insignificant: the 16-year-old’s all-consuming desire to be the lead in the school play is felt as deeply as the loneliness of the divorced carpenter.

BTP was founded by Orbach and Sarah Guilbault ’18 in 2014 in an effort to bring student theater to non-traditional spaces on campus. The organization produces most shows in a three-week period, which Orbach said appeals to busy Bowdoin students who want to engage in on-campus theater but might not have time for a seven-week production.

With small cast sizes and intimate venues, BTP also prides itself in its ability to create unity among the cast as well as to break down the barrier between the audience and the actors. With just a yoga ball and a hula hoop for props, “Circle Mirror Transformation” is one of the group’s most personal shows yet. 

“Part of the mission of BTP is bringing the audience into the play instead of asking them to opt in,” Orbach said. 

According to Jamie Boucher ’19, who plays divorced carpenter Schultz in the show, the cast was able to tap into the messages of the play in order to overcome their greatest obstacle: finding the motivation to rehearse after an intense election week. 

Boucher noted that the universal themes of the show—loss and love, fear of death, importance of the individual, among others—were ultimately a comfort for the group. 

“It’s a valuable lesson that one can apply to rest of one’s life: everybody’s just human, just futsin’ around, trying really hard all the time,” Boucher said. “No one really knows what they’re doing, and so it’s a lesson to remind people that when it feels like the sky is falling down because Donald Trump has been elected—or even if it doesn’t, even if you’re celebrating—everyone only has two sets of eyeballs out of which they look at the world.”

“So much of theater is learning to be vulnerable and exploring parts of yourself that may really not be you, or parts that are more you than you realize,” added Rowan Staley ’18, who plays the drama teacher in the show. “It’s interesting to both be that person who’s acting and being vulnerable but then also playing someone who is being vulnerable and acting.”​