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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Group of students write, produce and act in upcoming play

Junior Anna Wulfekuhle, playing Mara, is tempted by Mephistopheles in "Faust," a devised play inspired by Christopher Marlowe's "The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus" and Johann von Goethe's "Faust." Performances run June 2-6 in the Performing Arts Center. // Photo by Christina Becker
Junior Anna Wulfekuhle, playing Mara, is tempted by Mephistopheles in “Faust,” a devised play inspired by Christopher Marlowe’s “The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus” and Johann von Goethe’s “Faust.” Performances run June 2-6 in the Performing Arts Center. // Photo by Christina Becker

Hidden in a cabin on Orcas Island over spring break, seven Western students created the first draft of the upcoming play “/faust,” which, through temptation and desire for power, asks its audience, “What is your soul worth?”

The play, which will run Tuesday, June 2, to Saturday, June 6, was inspired by Christopher Marlowe’s “The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus” and Johann von Goethe’s “Faust,” two plays that follow the fate of individuals who sacrifice moral integrity for their personal ambition and desire for success. 

Lead director Rich Brown and Western professor Kaveh Askari initially discussed an idea in December 2013 that would allow film and theater students to work together.

Brown intended for this idea to become a collaboration between him and the students. Soon after, performers, designers and stage managers joined together to create a creative company of 16 students. 

Together they made a devised work, meaning those who wrote the piece are also involved in production and performance, Brown said.

Five film students worked independently from the actors and stagehands to make projects for the piece, incorporating them into the storyline of the two human characters, Felix and Mara, who are producing their own films

The stage is made to serve as a projection surface for these films used in the story for the audience members above to see, he said.

“It is really something to watch. The world is just this vast empty space and there is this big open [abyss] between the audience and performers,” Brown said.

On the stage during rehearsal, five actors shrieked, cackled and gasped as they latched on to engaged filmmakers, Felix and Mara. The five are all playing the same part — demons that make up the creature Mephistopheles. 

The fifth Mephistopheles, named M5, is played by sophomore Griffin Harwood, who is also the properties manager and helped to craft the script.

The demon maintains no gender, and makes what Harwood calls “a perfectly even split” as it is played by two males, two females, and Harwood, who identifies as genderqueer. The five have become mentally and physically connected through playing a unified role, Harwood said.

Audience members will sit in the balcony exclusively, which is unusual of most productions, Brown said.

Students created a “/faust”-dedicated class winter quarter, which allowed them to keep writing and preparing the production. Multiple revisions were made, and the story is not the same one they started with, Harwood said. At the beginning of spring quarter, the group began rehearsing.

“You don’t really get to be a helicopter parent to your story,” Harwood said. “Especially if you are with a bunch of other people, because it kind of becomes its own entity. The final show is very different than the seed of it that I had in my mind. But I think that’s great.”

Brown said the story is big, as it deals with humans selling their soul for power. Students were courageous in taking on such a piece, and he often wondered if it was too heavy.

Trey McGee, who plays the human character Felix, said the play should be unlike anything anyone has ever seen before.

McGee said he has found parts of himself in Felix, especially as they share a passion for the arts.

“His turmoil is everyone’s. [His turmoil] is loss of love,” McGee said. “It is looking for answers in a world that is just full of questions. It is wanting to be the best you can be but not wanting to hurt someone or give something up. But then how do you do that?”

Rebecca Cort plays M3 and said Brown has prepared them more than most directors she has had. She feels prepared for the upcoming performance, which is not something typical of theater, Cort said.

The three-hour long rehearsals coming to an end is a strange realization, Cort said.

“You put all your effort into that one thing that’s now over in a week,” Cort said. “All of a sudden, these aren’t the same faces you’re seeing every day anymore, and they’re the faces that got you through the past two months.”

Harwood said per usual, they are scared out of their minds when thinking about the show’s debut.

“Right before you open a show is terrifying,” Harwood said. “It is like standing on a precipice and not knowing if you have suddenly gained the ability to levitate or not, but knowing you have to step out and try. If you aren’t scared of that, you’re missing out.”

“/faust” will run from Tuesday, June 2, through Saturday June 6, at 7:30 p.m., and a matinee will be performed at 2 p.m. on June 6. Tickets can be purchased at the Performing Arts Center box office for $7-8 dollars for students and $12-13 for the general public.

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