Just one week from opening night, Director Ty Hewitt hurriedly paces around UAA's Mainstage Theatre. A small cast of three actors rehearse lines while another quietly strums the guitar and hums one of the production's musical numbers. The stage crew is busy at work testing various LED lights and checking for chipped paint on the simplistic, yet imaginative set.
“The whole set is made out of recycled materials – that's why there are so many pallets,” explains Hewitt as he points at the stack of beautifully positioned wooden boxes adorning the set's walls.
Hewitt's production, 'Rain and Zoe Save the World', is the latest script to win the coveted Earth Matters of Stage (EMOS) script writing competition. Founded in 2004 by Theresa May and Larry Fried, EMOS is a consortium of artists, educators, activists and scholars who share a common belief that theatre and the performing arts should address issues of environmental crisis. To date, EMOS has produced 5 new plays that have been performed across the United States.
The 2018 winning script was written by New York playwright Crystal Skillman who chronicles the impulsive cross-country motorcycle journey of two Seattle teenagers who decide to join a group of oil protesters on the East Coast.
“[The play] is basically a coming of age story about going through your own personal journeys and growing up,” said Hewitt. “Rain and Zoe both discover aspects of themselves and they are sort of forced to confront their relationships not only to each other, but to themselves, their families, the world around them and the nature of what it means to grow up.”
The play's message seems to have also gotten through to Hewitt's young cast which to his knowledge, is the most ethnically diverse cast that has taken the UAA stage in some time.
“I definitely relate to a lot of things that Zoe believes in,” explained Luna McCarthy who plays Zoe. “I'm not personally an activist per se but I am an Indigenous person, so having a connection to nature and the earth is something I definitely understand.”
Of course, a diverse cast and a focus on pressing environmental issues aren't the only things exciting about UAA's newest production.
“The process of getting the production ready has been really cool and very unique! The cast and I will read through the script and submit some questions directly to the playwright and she'll do some rewrites to clarify what she means. Or, I'll call her and ask if I'm thinking about a certain line correctly. We've already Skyped her in during two different rehearsals, so she's been able to help us make adjustments too. Right now, her and I are talking at least once a week so its been this really collaborative effort,” said Hewitt.
As with most UAA productions, everything from the script to the sets and the costumes to the lighting design has been part of a larger collaboration between students, faculty and community members.
No one exemplifies this better than UAA Theatre and Dance student Jordan Crenshaw who has served in nearly every position over the course of his time with the department.
“I love everything about being a part of the Theatre and Dance Department but I love acting probably the most. Just being here at UAA you get so many opportunities to work on lights, sets and sounds –and anything you want to learn you can just ask someone and they will get you right on board. It's just a great process because we all collaborate and you can take on many roles in one production,” said Crenshaw who is playing an ensemble role in his final UAA production.