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Student-directed one-act plays exploring alternate universes to debut at Philbin Studio Theater

| Friday, February 21, 2020

The Philbin Studio Theater at DeBartolo Performing Arts Center will run two new student-directed one-act plays, “Coats” by junior Henry Stone and “The Tea on ND” by senior Samuel Jackson II. Both plays debuted Thursday and will show until March.

Each of the two plays are set in a flipped world. “Coats is an absurdist comedy that takes place in a world where empathy is a disease, and “The Tea on ND” explores a parallel universe in which being gay is the norm and straight people are the marginalized minority. Senior Amenabar Farias, director of “The Tea on ND” and senior Patrick Starner, director of “Coats,” said these worlds were fleshed out in a workshopping class they took last semester.

“The big thing that we focused on was just trying to figure out what this physical world actually looks like, how the characters interact,” Starner said. “We just messed around with that, and it taught me the world of the play — it’s a very unique piece of theater in this absolutely wonderful world that Henry has crafted.”

As director, Starner said he did not come in with a strict plan. Instead, he wanted to collaborate with the actors to create something that felt real. That process, he said, taught him a lot about theater.

“I had thoughts and rough guidelines,” Starner said. “But I didn’t want to dictate what all the performers were going to do. We were really able to collaboratively, as a unit, create the show and flush out all these different moments — some of them I didn’t even know were there, and now it’s a great moment in the show.”

“The Tea on ND” also explores an alternate universe, and Farias said she hopes people can see the parallels between the play and Notre Dame itself.

“It is aimed for the Notre Dame audience,” she said. “We want to make sure that they know that we’re talking about the community they live in. It brings light to all of these issues and raises awareness of these injustices.”

Starner, Farias and Jackson have all been involved in plays at Notre Dame before, and Farias said this will be the third play she has directed at the University. She said she was especially excited to work with “The Tea on ND” because it deals with issues and injustices present in the current world.

“I’m interested in telling stories that usually go untold,” Farias said. “So when this show was presented to me, I was very interested. It’s not just a show for the sake of being entertaining, because it is entertaining, but it also has a very deep message.”

Jackson said he wrote the play in a different universe to shake up the typical view of the University.

“It’s an exploration of the University of Notre Dame in a universe where traditions are upended, expectations are unrooted and perspectives drastically change in a hope to shake up the familiar scene and allow audiences to find a new meaning,” he said.

While Jackson found inspiration in his own experience at Notre Dame, he said he also wanted it to be accessible for everyone. A large part of that was writing humor into the play alongside the issues it tackles, he said.

“It’s fun. It’s a really fun show,” he said. “I have my mission and everything — that whole empathy-building thing, being able to shake up the familiar scene and, you know, analyze the social fabric of this place — that’s great. At the same time, come out and laugh. For two and a half hours, just be with your friends, be with the people on stage and live in the moment. Be challenged, be questioned, allow yourself to see, allow yourself to be seen through the emotions being explored on stage. And laugh.”

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