Two students from Academy of Art University’s acting school were challenged to look inward and perform with raw vulnerability in the school’s first annual Solo Performance Festival.
The Dec. 7 event, billed It’s Not Always Black and White, featured two one-person plays by students Samantha Girard (MA candidate) and Treya Brown (BFA candidate).
The short plays are autobiographical. In Sunshine With Rain Cloud, Girard drew on memories of her grandmother and explored how their bond emboldened Girard’s art. In Backbone Broken and Still Standing, Brown also explored connections, probing trust and romantic relationships. Both were intimate, vulnerable portraits.
The two actors veered between emotions and slipped into memories through engaging storytelling and musical moments. Both began developing these works just a few weeks into the fall semester.
First Time for All
Neither of the actors had written or performed a solo performance show, much less one built on personal experiences. And it wasn’t just a first for the actors—it was the first time the School of Acting presented this festival.
The Solo Performance Festival was created by Director of Theater Programs Hector Zavala. The initial intent was to provide students with theater acting degrees to bolster their resumes. Zavala explains that it’s not as if these students will graduate with a tangible portfolio of their work, as compared with, say, graphic design or photography students.
“I want to make it a point that the students take something of value [with their degrees]. Not just a learning experience or a demo reel—I want them to be ready to go out and work,” Zavala says. “At the very least they have a script or a one-person show that they can sell.”
Two Creative Journeys
Bringing the works to fruition was an enriching challenge for both. Speaking during an initial rehearsal in November, Girard and Brown expressed some nervousness.
“This is my first time doing anything like this,” Brown said. “From when this semester started, I felt really fragile in life. Just in this semester alone, I’ve seen so much progress in myself.”
Brown’s cues from Zavala included writing to delve deep. Brown said it’s powerful to “see things you are able to create based on you taking the time and putting the energy into something.”
Zavala’s guidance was pivotal. “One thing he told me was don’t let your brain write for you. Just let it come out. What I ended up writing about was so much more.”
Over the weeks spent working with Zavala on their performances, the students honed their storytelling. In the dress rehearsal, Girard explained that she opted to refocus her script on the relationship with her grandmother, doing away with a storyline about a childhood crush. Instead, she focused on how her grandmother supported her art.
Girard said that in mining her past for story details, it was “surreal” to return to these memories over and over. “I didn’t realize how much detail I remembered,” she observed. She also realized that though she’d only seen her grandmother, who recently passed away, about once a year at Christmastime, she was a prominent figure in Girard’s life.
Solo, but Collaborative
In the days leading up to the performance, Girard and Brown also reflected on how developing their plays side by side enriched their acting. While they forged their own separate works, much of their creative process was collaborative.
“Sam just in general has a warmth to her. [She] is very subtle. It’s not in your face,” said Brown of Girard. She added that she admires how Girard wove song into her story. Girard’s songwriting and ukulele talents were an initial impetus for her play to begin with. Brown said that the songs, written years ago by Girard, still resonate to this day.
Girard said that Brown’s performance, which pivots between joy and devastation on a dime, has helped her be stronger. “It really inspired me to be open and be vulnerable to the point where it’s scary,” Girard said. She added that Brown helped her drill down and tap into universal experiences.
“I very much empathize,” said Girard. “We all have stories to tell.”
Photos by Bob Toy
Original article by Cristina Schreil of AcademyArtUNews, https://artunews.com/