The Daily Illini

Penny Dreadful Players gives non-theater majors a creative outlet

By Emma Palatnik, Staff Writer

Students, like Gracie McCall, senior in LAS, aren’t always given the opportunity to participate in theatrical productions as non-theater majors. Groups like the Penny Dreadful Players give them that chance.

The Penny Dreadful Players, or PDP, is a student-run RSO. This semester, they are producing three plays: “Stop Kiss,” “Down the Road” and “10-Minute.”

“10-Minute” runs Oct. 12 and 13 at 7:30 p.m. in the Allen Hall lobby. Doors open at 7 p.m. “Stop Kiss” is a full-length show, and runs about 90 minutes. It runs Oct. 26 and 27 at 7 p.m., doors open at 6:30 p.m.

“10-Minute” is an annual production made up of 10-minute student-written plays. 2018’s show is a compilation of eight plays titled: “Saudade,” “Sal’s Redemption,” “The Untold Story,” “Fourth Date,” “Rhynochetos Jubatus,” “Due to Unforeseen Circumstances,” “Acts of God” and “Chicago Apartments Are So Filthy.”

Students submit their short plays to the PDP executive board. The board reviews them and selects eight they think will fit best in the show. Writers have the opportunity to direct their play if it is picked.

This year, McCall, who also serves as the managing director of PDP, said many writers didn’t want to direct, so there are a number of new directors.

McCall said that “10-Minute” is challenging because of the short length of the plays, and the writers’ desire to incorporate a dynamic plot.

“The students wow us with what they come up with,” McCall said.

The short plays are similar to individual scenes, taking a little moment out of two people’s lives. Certain plays last one scene and others are multiple. McCall said the board looks for short plays that have a complete story from start to finish.

PDP’s goal for “10-Minute” is to get new students writing and directing within the Penny Dreadful Players, Xavier Retana, graduate student in LAS, PDP technical director and “Stop Kiss” producer, said.

The board accepts anything that’s a drama, comedy or even a dramedy. McCall said many of the plays are unique.

Auditions for “10 Minutes” were two weeks ago. They cast 20 students total for the productions. Now, the plays are in rehearsal. For four weeks, directors rehearse plays with actors twice a week for 30 minutes.

McCall said the environment is low-key and not too demanding.  

“It’s just a really fun experience for people who either have never been in a play before or they’ve never acted at all,” McCall said. “It’s really low commitment, (it’s a) really fun way for them to get involved and meet a lot of other creative people around campus.”

The plot of “Stop Kiss” follows two women who thought they were straight for most of their lives. They meet in New York City and develop a friendship that turns into a romance. One night, they kiss, but shortly after, a man sees and starts heckling them. Eventually, he beats them up and puts one woman in a coma.

The show consists of scenes from before the assault, and after, alternating between the two time periods.

“It’s not only the building of a romance but also coming to terms with a new part of you, that the character may have not realized was there,” Kelsey Woodbury, sophomore in LAS and “Stop Kiss” assistant director, said. “And trying to figure out if continuing this romance is a good thing considering at the butt of their romance, so much damage was done.”

Woodbury said the play centers around many social issues.

“A lot of issues where the men in the play are saying ‘How could you have put yourself in danger?’ ‘How dare you do that to yourself?’ and stuff like that instead of showing more sympathy for them,” Woodbury said.

Woodbury said they are in the middle of practicing lines and blocking. She said they aren’t too far into rehearsing right now, but the directors do have a plan in place.

Directors have a timeline laying out when lines should be memorized when the venue, props and costumes should be ready.

“We have a long time to get people ready, we also did cast the show really well,” Woodbury said. “We’re already ahead in our process, just in acting ability, we cast a lot of awesome actors.”

In a realistic play like this one, Woodbury said it’s hard to get actors to not dramatize. Much of the dialogue is normal conversation. As assistant director, Woodbury said she tries to get herself, the actors and other directors in the right mindset.

“Instead of saying ‘Say the line like this’ saying, ‘Put yourself in this situation and see how this character would say those lines,’ Woodbury said.

She said acting is a mix of not only saying the lines but feeling the lines.

“There’s so much more that will connect with the audience more than you can do with just saying,” Woodbury said. “You can do a monologue and someone will be like ‘Now I get it’ or you can do five lines with good acting, and they’ll be like ‘I get it.’”

Woodbury said she thinks the story connects to everyone in many different ways.

Auditions for the third production, “Down the Road,” are Oct. 9 from 6 to 10 p.m. in Gregory Hall. It’s an in-the-round style show. The plot follows two married reporters who interview a serial killer for a book they are writing about his crimes and life. The story finishes with the audience questioning the media’s portrayal of true crime.

Through PDP, McCall said she has met her best friends and boyfriend.

“I would never have met them otherwise because we’re in completely different majors,” McCall said. “It’s a really cool way to bring people together with a common interest and passion for art and for theater.”

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