Play director draws on personal experience while playwriting
Gaby Jansen | Monday, May 1, 2017
For the past six weeks, Saint Mary’s Margaret M. Hill-endowed visiting artist-in-residence Casey Whitaker has lived on campus while directing her original play, “Lucky, Liar, Loser,” encouraging students not to break a leg while running their lines.
After visiting the College in 2015 with her Second City troupe, Whitaker said she fell in love with the supportive atmosphere.
“I was one of the actors who got to come in a little bit early before the performance and teach some workshops, and that’s when I really fell in love with Saint Mary’s and the students and the faculty,” she said. “That was a life-changing experience that week here. I just really loved the community and the feeling on campus.”
Whitaker was able to put on her play this spring because she maintained contact with some faculty members, she said.
“I kept in touch with some of the faculty, and then we ended up working this out for me to come back on my own and do this project,” she said.
Whitaker said she wanted the performance to portray the different ways women experience violence.
“We’re actually covering an array of different ways this could happen against women, so it’s not just physical abuse or domestic abuse,” Whitaker said. “It’s also emotional. There’s eating disorders — kind of the whole gamut of how people experience this issue. The story couldn’t just be told with one storyline because this issue is so abundant.”
Part of the inspiration for her project came from her own experiences and others’ stories, she said.
“I think I always wanted to do this production, and then after a man broke into my bedroom, I decided it was time to really do it and use art to heal,” she said. “I was so interested in other people’s stories. So, some of it is based on my own experience, and that’s what kind of ignited me to do this, but it’s fueled by all the women I’ve met who have shared their stories. Hopefully, it will stay burning by the people who come to see the show.”
Whitaker said although the show has comedic elements and incorporates dance, music and shadow puppetry, it maintains an appropriate level of seriousness and sensitivity.
“It’s very real and grounded, but it became very comedic — not in a disrespectful way, but in a way where we use comedic relief all the time to hide pain and to deal with things that are hard,” she said.
Whitaker said her experiences on campus will continue to inspire her after she departs.
“I don’t know if I’m ready to leave campus,” she said. “Six weeks is a long time, and I have a life in Chicago, but I’ve made such great friends and I’ve really enjoyed my time here. I’m just a little sad it will be over.”
As for the show itself, Whitaker said she hopes it will continue to be produced after its run at Saint Mary’s.
“I would love to have the show continue to be put up, especially on college campuses,” Whitaker said. “I think it’s a perfect topic and product to be shared around, whether it’s all-female or not. I’m anxious to see what happens next.”
Whitaker said she hopes to inspire other women to experiment with comedy.
“For so long, I didn’t want to believe that I could do theatre or comedy for a living,” she said. “It was … a scary thing to say out loud because it’s a hard industry, and it’s a little unrealistic just based on odds.”
As for students who want to break into selective industries after graduation, Whitaker said they should pursue their dreams and remain confident.
“I would say for anyone who’s pursuing theatre or a field that’s maybe competitive and hard and scary … just say it out loud,” Whitaker said. “Whatever you want, say it out loud and tell other people and own it. Dreams can come true, and you’ll surprise yourself if you can just believe in yourself and your dream and watch it affect others.”