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‘Contents Under Pressure’: senior playwright grapples with authority over his work

April 24, 2020

Courtesy of Sebastian Hernandez
SIMPLER TIMES: Nathan Ashany '21 and Enrique Mendia '20 rehearse "Contents Under Pressure," a project written and directed by Sebastian Hernandez '20. The play was set to open this spring, but has been postponed due to the coronavirus.

Many of the seniors working on performing arts projects set to debut in the spring are crushed by the fact that they won’t see their capstone projects performed during their last year at the College. Sebastian Hernandez ’20 has a slightly different perspective.

After reworking his final project for a senior studio course—a play called “Contents Under Pressure,”—time and time again, Hernandez went into spring break nervous about what would come next.

“Everything kept changing every single time [my professors and I] met, so I had no idea what was gonna happen when we got back from break,” Hernandez said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “[It was] kind of a bit of a relief when I found out we couldn’t do [the play].”

Hernandez rewrote his script at least six times throughout the course of the year. The final product centers around a teenager who is struggling with loneliness and creates an imaginary friend who becomes emotionally manipulative. The story ends with the teenager eventually realizing this friend is not real and that he has begun to close himself off from his family and the world.

Though the transition to remote learning has been something of a reprieve for Hernandez, the coronavirus (COVID-19) has added some new uncertainties to his project. The play will be performed next year, overseen by a professional director, and Hernandez is not sure what that means for his own role in the project after the semester ends.

“I don’t know who owns the work at this point,” said Hernandez. “I don’t know how much say I [will] have; my actors [will] not be in it,” he said.

These actors were critical to the play’s development in the months leading up to spring break. Following the suggestion of Associate Professor of Theater Abigail Killeen, Hernandez relied on suggestions and alterations from his actors—Enrique Mendía ’20, Nathan Ashany ’21, Jacqueline Boben ’22 and Catherine Crouch ’23.

“We were encouraged to chime in and give our opinions on blocking and the script,” Boben said. “Sometimes [Hernandez] would tell us to improv and let go of the script. This allowed him to change scenes and make the characters more real.”

The current iteration of “Contents Under Pressure” is quite different from Hernandez’s original concept. The play began as a Spiderman-esque narrative in which a man is bitten by a dog and becomes convinced that he possesses superpowers. Hernandez admits that he was asking for too much from that idea, but said that with Killeen’s help, he was able to reevaluate his concepts for the best final result.

“I had turned in some bad drafts, and [Killeen] told me to not do the [“Spiderman”] bit and focus on the loneliness aspect of my project,” he said in an email to the Orient.

This, though frustrating for Hernandez, ended up benefitting his play.

“I don’t think I would have cared so much or gotten to real emotional complexity without [Killeen]’s suggestion,” said Hernandez. “I think the characters are more specific.”

Ultimately, Boben believes that the play allows Hernandez to demonstrate his unique personality and sense of humor.

“[Hernandez] is a quiet force who is completely original. He has the wittiest humor that is realistic and relatable,” said Boben in an email to the Orient.

Crouch believes that Hernandez’s involvement and dedication to the play was extremely important to the process..

“Rehearsing was fun and lighthearted but you could also tell how much he cares about this project,” she said. “It’s so sad that his friends and family and the school community can’t see the finished product.”

Hernandez has been rewriting the script again during quarantine. He is adding the latest revisions made in rehearsals prior to spring break, including new stage directions. What comes next? Hernandez isn’t sure.

“I’ve been [thinking of] sending it out to other festivals and other play writing competitions or something,” he said. “But, I don’t think that [the department] want[s] that.”


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