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SBU Theater student’s capstone project expresses pain, hope of extraordinary year

Jun 14, 2021 |

Tap Trio (l-r) Kat Jones, Emily Weber and Jillian Riley, and solo dancer Izzy Wilson
Emily Weber gives her monologueUndaunted by COVID-19 limitations, the students of SBU Theater produced a video production this spring expressing the power of theater to inspire and revive.

“On with the Show” was the creation of senior theater major Emily Weber and a talented student cast and crew. The production, Weber’s semester-long senior capstone project, featured original choreography, songs, classical piano solo, a theatrical monologue, an original mime piece and student-drawn animation. Theater major capstone pieces are often solo efforts, but Weber chose a different course.

“I was so proud of Emily’s decision to open the production up to others and make it a vaudeville for our times,” said Dr. Ed. Simone, director of SBU’s theater program. “She created an entertainment based around a powerful idea and she and her team just ran with it.”

Weber’s concept for the show started with a quote she encountered in one of her theater classes.

“In a documentary about vaudeville, the critic John Lahr said, ‘Frivolity is our species’ refusal to suffer.’ That really made me think,” said Weber. “Right now, we’re doing some suffering and I wanted to produce something to allow an escape, to refuse to suffer.”

The video opened with a shot of a hand turning on the “ghost light,” the ubiquitous light bulb on a stand that illuminates darkened theaters the world over. It’s a sign that something theatrical and wonderful is about to happen. In Weber’s production, the frivolity begins and ends with theatrical dance. 

A lifelong dancer, Weber choreographed the two dance pieces that bookend the video: a moody solo piece set to “The Attractions of Youth” by Barns Courtney and an ebullient tap trio set to Paul Simon’s “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.”

“I wanted the first of the dance pieces to express what we’re going through now, but to also say that if you hold on to what you love you’re going to feel better,” said Weber.

“The tap piece is meant to be a joyful celebration, which is why it’s a trio, not a solo,” she added.      

Weber was one third of the tap trio, joining senior tappers Kat Jones and Jillian Riley. Weber’s solo dancer was senior Izzy Wilson. Technical assistance for the dance recording sessions was by senior Christopher Starkweather.

The dances, like all of the production, were recorded using COVID-protocol distancing and masks. Keeping students safe was a priority.

“The whole project was done within protocols. We were able to have Emily unmasked for her monologue and her song because they were recorded outdoors after that protocol was changed to allow it,” said Simone. “But even in those outdoor recording sessions, the musical accompanist and camera operator were masked and distanced.”

Weber’s musical accompanist for her outdoor performance of Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie” was senior Jessica Matias, who also accompanied freshman Kaylee Middaugh in the video performance of “Rise Up” by Andra Day. “On with the Show” also featured Matias performing Erik Satie’s “Gnossienne No. 1,” a dada-esque work for solo piano.

Weber’s capstone video included a monologue from Bernard Shaw’s play “Misalliance,” recorded in a wooded grotto behind SBU’s Francis Hall. 

“I’d worked on the monologue in class and it stood out to me as having elements in it that reflect me as a person. That was important to include in the project,” said Weber. “It’s a strong exploration piece; I identify with the character of Hypatia and really resonate with how she expresses herself.”

Senior Lauren Barry, junior Catie Duszynski and sophomore Emily Tiedemann wrote and performed the video’s original pantomime, which Weber recorded in black and white. The animated pieces that appeared between the live-action performances were created by sophomore Anna K. Smith and Barry.

“The songs, the pantomime, the music and dance and the animation all came together to celebrate all the performing arts forms, to reflect their inclusivity and to express the beauty in every art,” said Weber. 

Weber edited the video production and presented it at a distanced watch party for the cast, artists and crew in the Garret Theater, SBU theater program’s performance lab and historic home, on May 6. 

Weber, who received SBU’s 2021 Theater Award, is taking a year to choreograph and teach dance. She then hopes to land a spot in a graduate program for acting.

“I want to keep making art — to keep telling stories that matter,” she said.

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About the University: The nation’s first Franciscan university, St. Bonaventure University is a community committed to transforming the lives of our students inside and outside the classroom, inspiring in them a lifelong commitment to service and citizenship. In 2020, St. Bonaventure was named the #2 regional university value in New York and #3 in the North by U.S. News and World Report.