Rarely does the process of embalming incite romance, but in the Wish Theatre this past Saturday, love bloomed amidst dead bodies and shaving cream. Or, at least, it did for the duration of “Over My Dead Body,” written by Dylan Sloan ’22, Johnny Liesman ‘22 and Elizabeth Gracey ’22, which debuted this past Saturday at Bowdoin’s annual one-act play festival.
The piece was one of four original plays produced by Masque and Gown this year. The festival has been promoting student productions since its inception in 1934. Although it has evolved over the years from a Bowdoin-Colby-Bates collaboration to a stand-alone Bowdoin endeavor, the festival’s mission has remained the same: to stage one-act plays written, directed and performed by students.
Per festival tradition, the audience voted for a favorite production at the end of the night. This year’s winner was “Estate Sale Book Play,” written by Ian Stewart ’20 and directed by Hannah Scotch ’22, about a man who wants to write his own autobiography.
Though ultimately Stewart walked away with the $100 prize for best play, the competition was by no means easy.
“[The vote] was really close, which was really fun because I think it means that everyone enjoyed themselves, because each [play] was so good,” said Masque and Gown’s Artistic Director Grace Kellar-Long ’21.
While “Estate Sale Book Play” is a light-hearted comedy, the one-acts ranged in mood and topic. “Dogwood,” written by Brianna Cunliffe ’22, depicts a young woman who comes out to her parents while on break from college. “Cosmic Complacency,” written by Kat Daley ’22, imagines a future in which a mad scientist must convince aliens the human race is worth saving from climate change, while “Over My Dead Body,” was set in a funeral home, and recounts the stories of a man whom the playwrights met at a jam shop in Hawaii.
Gracey, Sloan and Liesman travelled to Hawaii with funding from a Faculty Scholarship over Winter Break. Gracey explained that the dead body being embalmed during the play was inspired by an actual man named Mr. Ed.
“His story in the play was the story of the real Mr. Ed, so it was kind of touching to hear it played back afterwards,” Gracey said. “It was such a dark play and a comedy, but this guy really opened up to us.” In the stage interpretation, Mr. Ed’s story is told from the perspective of his son.
While Masque and Gown takes one-act submissions from any interested Bowdoin students, the process of directing and performing the plays is carried out independently of playwrights. After returning from break and holding auditions, the directors and actors have just two weeks to memorize lines, tweak stage directions and run through a day of tech-rehearsals.
“We met probably three or four times each week, and it was a quick turnaround,” said Nate DeMoranville ’20, who directed “Cosmic Complacency.”
Though DeMoranville had taken a directing class at Bowdoin the previous semester, it was his first experience directing outside of the classroom.
“[That] we were just all students doing it, for me, lowers the stakes and makes [the plays] more just about having fun,” said DeMoranville.
Carlos Campos ’22, who was cast in “Over My Dead Body,” echoed DeMoranville’s positive sentiments.
“[Performing in the festival] felt great,” Campos said. “At the very end I actually forgot my lines because some of my friends were in the crowd and they were making different noises, but that’s okay. It felt really nice to play a character who wasn’t me but somehow became a part of me.”
For those thinking about joining the one-act play festival next year, Campos offers this advice: go for it.
“Audition for a role and see what happens. Everyone here at Bowdoin has some unique quirk to them, that is inside of them and their friends know about it, but perhaps not everyone knows about it,” Campos said. “[The festival] is a way of taking the small quirks and making them come to life.”
Brianna Cunliffe ’22, Dylan Sloan ’22 and Ian Stewart ’20 are members of the Bowdoin Orient.