Behind the Scenes

Reflecting on the challenges and successes of the 2020 Student Directed Play


The cast of the Student Directed Play worked diligently and put in hours of rehearsal to produce a comedic, SNL-inspired show on January 31, 2020.

The Student Directed Play is a unique opportunity for a senior to lead their own theater production each winter.  I was asked to be the Director of this year’s show. At first, I was not sure what to expect… I have performed and stage-managed many of CHC’s plays and musicals since I was a sophomore, but directing was a new aspect of production that I had not yet explored.  However, I quickly became excited to take on this new challenge.


Though the recent musicals were lighthearted, the fall plays were dramatic with intense themes.  I was inspired by NBC’s Saturday Night Live and the show’s style of sketch comedy, to do my own take on it for the Student Directed Play.  It took me some time to find the sketches we would perform because I was trying to balance college applications with homework, projects, exams, orchestra rehearsals, and concerts.  Though the play was still on my radar, I was juggling a lot of things at once and it was frequently put aside.  


I eventually was able to choose three works from Kristen Dabrowski’s Ten Minute Comedy Plays for Teens over Winter Break.  I thought that they fit the cast well and would give each person a chance to be in the spotlight.  “The List” created a competitive dynamic between aspiring actresses Vanessa and Emmy that I knew Ailis Lindgren (‘22) and Adia Lindgren (‘22) would be able to portray by channeling their go-to improv characters, Bethany and Lavender.  


“First Job” featured Gavin Hewitt (‘22), Ty Boyle (‘21), and Adia Colvin (‘22) as Ren, a newly hired dishwasher, Steve, an unmotivated slacker, and Mallory, an uptight waitress who just needed spoons!  This sketch was great because it put Gavin, who was new to acting, opposite Ty, who has done several plays at CHC, with Adia shouting for spoons to provide some comic relief, blending different personalities and experiences that ended up creating a strong performance by all.


Our third sketch was called “The Suspect,” inspired by The Tonight Show’s “Mad Lib Theater” segment, one of my favorite activities that Jimmy Fallon does on his show.  Since the other three works were scripted, this sketch was quite the experiment and I debated whether I should include something improvised.  It could have been fantastic or a total flop, but I decided to take the chance. After coming up with a script and questions to ask audience members, the cast and I filled out cue cards that we used to act out our completed Mad Lib.  Adia and Ailis played a good cop and bad cop, while I was the suspect, and it was… interesting. While we struggled to read the cards and maintain character at times, the fill-in-the-blank words were hilarious and made us laugh along with the audience.  


The night concluded with Dabrowski’s “I Warned You,” starring Becca McSweeney as Grace, Ethan Leyton (‘22) as Wayne, Grace’s older brother, and Star Stinson (‘22) as Sunita, Grace’s friend who crushes on Wayne; Ailis, Gavin, and Ty played more of Grace’s friends.  This sketch was a great way to incorporate almost the entire cast and include Star, who had been running the lights behind the scenes. While it was an inclusive scene, I realize in retrospect that perhaps the sketch should have been eliminated from the program altogether.  The content regarding Wayne’s faking a mental health problem and his friends’ insistence on shipping him off to a mental hospital was insensitive. I did remove some lines from the sketch that were overtly inappropriate. Though I am sure that her intentions were to be comical, I think that Dabrowski should have been more aware and conscientious of the subject material, and I should have rethought including the sketch as part of the performance.  Hindsight truly is 20/20.


Nevertheless, running the Student Directed Play is an experience that I will never forget.  It was sometimes difficult balancing leading my peers with being their friend, but our hard work paid off and I am extremely happy with the performance we gave.  I know I will always remember the moment when the cast finally memorized their lines, the time I accidentally blew a fuse running the lights in the Drama Room, and the Fridays when I went out on pizza runs for everyone.  Reminiscing over Becca shared, “I have so many hilarious memories from the play, like when we couldn’t figure out lighting so we just sat there in a little puddle of stress, or when we finished early so we’d play Just Dance… We eventually pulled it together.”  Ailis added that she enjoyed our “lively rehearsals where we got to watch each other’s scenes.  We definitely had a lot of fun.”


Over a short, rapid month, I strengthened many of the friendships I already had with the cast and also developed new ones with people I had only passed in the hall before.  Moreover, Gavin said, “I felt like it was a place where I could be myself.”  Though this experience certainly came with its share of challenges and stressors, I would not trade it for the friends I made or our amazing performance.  After all, the audience laughed: mission accomplished.


Michael Russo (‘20) is a senior at Cape Henry Collegiate and enjoys reading, writing, and watching television in his free time. He plans on studying Media Arts and Design at James Madison University and pursuing a career as a journalist.