For their spring performance, Student Performing Artists will be producing their first full-length student-written work in the group’s 16-year history, written by their very own sophomore theatre major Sarah Kennedy.
SPA has been producing prominent plays at USM since 1977. From Shakespeare to Edward Albee, with Sam Shepard, David Ives and Christopher Durrang in between, they’ve covered a lot of notable playwrights. But this year, they’re excited that a USM student has proposed to produce an original work.
SPA accepted proposals from all its members, looking at scripts, cast size and the cost of production as major factors in their decision. Kennedy was just in the beginning stages of writing Oy, Vey! in a playwriting course she was taking last semester when her classmate, junior theatre major Dalton Kimball, who would come to direct the show, encouraged her to propose it to SPA.
“I really didn’t even have a full script. I just had the basic idea and had written a few scenes, but everyone seemed to like what they saw, so they accepted it,” said Kennedy.
“I don’t know why,” she added with a laugh.
Oy, Vey! is a comedy centered around the life of Sam Minkonsky, an ordinary teenage girl who is trying to find structure in her life in Long Island, New York with her overbearing parents Mitzi and Harold looking over her shoulder every minute. Life is pretty simple until Sam and her friend Katie start reading from a mysterious Latin text and accidentally summon a negligent and loudmouthed demon named Blanche during an after-school study session at home. Throughout the play, Sam tries to banish Blanche, finish her school project and handle her quirky, prying mother while realizing that things don’t always work out as planned.
Kennedy has been working on the script for five months now, but its roots go back even further. Kennedy found her first spark of inspiration last summer when she was taking part in PortFringe, a Portland-based five day theater festival that aims to showcase the creative pursuits of Mainers.
“It all developed because my friend Aaron developed this character one day during rehearsal for a play that we were doing. He just started speaking in this exaggerated Jewish accent and calling himself Mitzi. It was just hilarious and after a while he created this character that I couldn’t seem to get out of my head,” said Kennedy.
With Mitzi, Kennedy started to develop her story. But as she was writing, Mitzi started to take a backseat to the emerging character of Sam.
“It was weird how that developed, too. How Mitzi just became a secondary character and Sam became the protagonist,” said Kennedy. “When I started really getting into writing, Mitzi just naturally faded into the background, and I felt that Sam became so much more important.”
“Sam is the one I identify with most, too. The things she feels and stresses out about in the play are also things that I’ve dealt with. There are those days when I have this set schedule, but I’ve to come to learn that things are going to interrupt that schedule, and you can’t really plan out your entire life,” said Kennedy. “It’s about finding the fun things in your life that are the most worthwhile, instead.”
Kennedy has learned first hand that one of the most daunting tasks that comes with being a writer is revising. Previous to this full-length play, her writing experience was mainly in slam poetry, a typically a shorter-length style of writing.
When asked how many times she had gone over the script and edited it, she laughed.
“I think over the past five months I’ve completely tossed out scripts and rewritten it five times,” said Kennedy. “Sometimes I’d stay up until five in the morning working on a scene and then end up throwing it out. It’s a long process.”
Through revision, Kennedy has altered characters thoroughly and shifted plot lines over and over again. Kennedy has been able to attend the rehearsals and tweak the script based on the cast and directing choices as well.
One of the most extreme changes in the script was when Blanche was created, instead of the original male demon named Bob. Junior media studies major Alyssa Rojecki was cast as Bob after auditions. Kennedy was okay with casting against gender and is actually a general fan of its comedic value, but the choice just didn’t feel right to her. Then someone asked her if Bob could be a girl.
“The entire play just seems to work out better with the change, and I didn’t even think about that before until someone suggested it,” said Kennedy. “The minute someone told me, I just went, ‘Oh my God, that makes so much sense. Why didn’t I think of that before?’”
Aside from making minor alterations to specific lines, actions and general prop and wardrobe choices, Kennedy has tried to step away from the production. She wants to see how her work is interpreted by others without her constant input. The final draft of the script was submitted just two weeks ago, and Kennedy said she isn’t going to look at it until after the performances.
“It’s terrifying. Really terrifying,” said Kennedy. “It’s just putting a part of myself out into the world to be judged. I feel like people are more sensitive with actors, but no one ever sees the writer, so who cares, right? A play is a play, and you can’t really fix it on the spot or make it better the next night.”
After the performances at Russell Hall this weekend, Kennedy plans on revisiting the play, making changes based on its first production and shipping it off to various contests. She is even playing with the idea of bringing it to PortFringe for production, letting the inspiration and work behind Oy, Vey! come full circle.
SPA’s performances of Oy, Vey! will take place on April 5 through 7. Performance times and additional information can be found by searching for their official page on Facebook.