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University Players gets meta in “Stage Kiss”

Stage Kiss

University Players recognizes the importance of the classic plays and musicals but is currently aiming to do something a little more experimental with their newest play, "Stage Kiss."

“We are just trying to serve undergraduate students and let them try new things,” Eleanor Sobczyk, a University Players student director, said. 

Sobczyk said the University Players are trying to select more contemporary works and try out more experimental stuff in order to give students new exposure, because most of the department already works with pieces people already know. 

University Players is a student-run organization in the IU’s Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance. The team consists of mostly people from the theatre and drama major but also has students from the Jacobs School of Music, the Media School and the Kelley School of Business. “Stage Kiss” is the first show of their 21st season. 

Molly Conner, a production manager and senior School of Public and Environmental Affairs student, discussed the way the all-student team creates structure, avoids hurt feelings and remains a tight-knit group.

“I think we’re really, really fortunate with the people we have,” Conner said. “They understand that when we enter a rehearsal or a board meeting, the friendships we have get left at the door. We all take this organization very seriously and treat it as if we are a professional theater company."

Sobczyk, a junior majoring in theatre and arts management, is excited to be making her directorial debut with Sarah Ruhl’s “Stage Kiss.” 

“It was written in 2014, so it’s fairly new,” Sobczyk said. “It’s a meta play. It’s very meta-theatrical.”

Meta is when a body of creative work references itself, including the conventions and limitations of its genre or medium. “Stage Kiss” embodies this word. 

“The two main characters are a little older, like in their 40s, and they’re never given names in the play, just referred to as he and she,” Sobczyk said. “They are two actors who used to be in love. And at the beginning, they’re cast in a play where they have to play two lovers."

Like the "Inception" of plays, "Stage Kiss" features student actors performing as fictional actors who are also playing characters in their own fictional play. If it sounds confusing and disorienting, that's because it's supposed to be. The only way to truly understand it is to see it in action. 

“Stage Kiss” looks to deconstruct the entire process of theater. It pokes fun at the 'norms' and daily life of being a modern actor. It shines a spotlight on painful first auditions, vague stage directions, the lack of women’s roles other than Lady Macbeth and Juliet, awkward stage kisses and the difficulty in distinguishing fictional intimacy from the real thing.

A lack of guidelines for intimacy choreography has been addressed as an issue in the drama community. Until recently, intimacy scenes weren’t treated nearly as seriously as fight choreography. These common theater practices have caused many rifts backstage. 

“A lot of the time with scenes, whether it be kissing or sex on stage, directors will just tell actors to go for it, just do it,” Sobczyk said. “That sometimes creates real relationship problems between cast members. 

When personal boundaries aren't set and actors are doing intensely emotional scenes, Sobczyk said it's easy to mistake what a character feels to what the actor feels. These types of situations don't always end well.

Rebecca Dwoskin and Nathaniel Kohlmeier, the show’s two leads, have found their own way to develop these personal boundaries. When the two student actors get intimate for "Stage Kiss," the moment Sobczyk calls “scene,” they double high-five each another. This serves as an emotional bookend — a bright, red stop sign. The technique has worked, although they are worried they might accidentally do it out of habit during the live performance.

“Stage Kiss” premieres with a double show night, with shows at 7:30 and 11 p.m. Sept. 21. They will be on stage in the Rose Firebay Theatre at the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center, and admission is free. 

It is the first of many performances University Players has scheduled for the school year. Next is a parody musical, “Triassic Parq,” along with their annual collaboration with the dance department, a workshop of a student member’s original musical and a contemporary play with an incredibly long name, usually shortened to, “We Are Proud to Present."

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