Seniors producing shows for final semester projects

Alfredo Aparicio/Staff Writer

For Mariana Vallejo, her senior project is the defining moment of her years as a theater student.

Embodying La India Catalina in her piece called “Huellas,” Vallejo said the project taught her not to be so hard on herself and “so final about things”

“I used to write my drafts like they were the final ones and then realized during rehearsal that a line or action had to be changed,” Vallejo said. “It made me realize that, while I have a lot of ability to change everything, it can’t be about ego. It has to be about what fits the greater need of my show.”

Vallejo is one of 12 seniors who will explore the final frontier of their education at the Department of Theatre’s BFA performance program by starring, writing, directing and producing their own 30 minute one-person shows for their senior projects at the end of their final semester. The process begins with choosing a person the project will be based on, the key is that this person has to have existed.

“This makes sense because part of the idea of theatre is to take an idea and information and translate them into the language of the stage,” said Michael Yawney, assistant professor in the theater department. “If you use someone who’s fictional, half the work is done for you because their whole life is exciting. The challenge is to take someone from the real world and make the monotony of life speak on stage. That’s more of an achievement.”

Zakiya Markland, whose project, “Color Me Blue” will be based on Josephine Baker, stresses that the projects, while based on real people, shouldn’t play like a biography and audience members should leave with a message from the piece. “We have to honor these people. They had lives and said these words and even though we may change or alter the truth for the sake of telling this story, it needs to be necessary to the central truth of the story. The choices can’t be arbitrary.”

For Markland, the responsibility of making all the creative choices as well as others was her biggest challenge to beat. “I have a hard time making decisions but when every responsibility lies on you, you have to make a choice,” Markland said. “My choices during this project are the things I’m most proud because I didn’t think I could do it.”

Julissa Perez, whose senior project on Etta James is entitled “Etta: In Color,” has made it a point to make her character something other than “At Last” James’ most famous song. “She’s a big name, and whenever I mention her people tell me they love ‘At Last’ but to me she’s someone that should be acknowledged for more than she was,” Perez said. “There’s something about every person that is us and I think that’s something that’s really interesting for artists and for people to come and see.”

Choosing James was not a task that came easy for Perez, however, and as the project has evolved Perez has become more protective of her work. “She kept coming back to me to the point where I was like ‘yes I’ll do it’ but at the time I didn’t understand why,” Perez said. “Now, I feel like had to tell her story and help people discover things about her you can’t look up on Wikipedia. She was someone I thought I knew but has been completely different from what I thought.”

For Tatiana Pandiani, whose project “(estoy) Viva” will be based on artist Frida Kahlo, hopes those who attend realize the immense amounts of hard work that has gone into preparing these projects.

“Us as actors are making the editorial decisions, building costumes, choosing when to input video and sound, establishing lighting design and I think it reflect the intention of the program that has always wanted us to learn beyond the scope of the actor,” Pandiani said. “They will see that each of us are responsible for many other things besides being actors.”

Pandiani’s biggest challenge when working on her project was noticing her own flaws while on stage by herself. “Because it’s a solo performance, you become more aware of everything and it highlights all the traps and things you’ve been told from the beginning not to do. The basic stuff I still can’t do like walking and saying your line because you’re out of practice so you have to relearn some things.”

Despite all the hard work and adjustments and trials, Dana Chavez, whose project is based on Typhoid Mary and entitled, “Yumm, Yumm, Sick,” has one final piece of advice. “You get what you give,” Chavez said. “What you put into the project, the more you care, the better it will be.” Missy Franciscus, whose project, “Inside My Head”, is based on Helen Keller, was not available for an interview.