Sophomore acting majors make DePaul debut

The halls of the Theatre School buzzed on Oct. 30 as acting majors prepared for their fifth and final Intro to Performance show. The series began on Oct. 22 and marks the first time that the class of 2024 has appeared to perform in front of DePaul audiences.

Because underclassmen at the Theatre School are excluded from the casting pool for main stage productions, the shows devised for the class were the sophomores’ first shot at impressing the DePaul community.

As the quarter began, students were organized into four casts and began devising the performances. Each cast, along with their directors, navigated this process differently. One group devised solely through discussion. Another created written pieces based on prompts and acting games. The overall goal was to find and capture “moments that could be shifted into storytelling,” said actor Zach Schnitzer.

Throughout the process, actors shared stories and viewed the craft through new lenses. With the encouragement of the directors, students reflected on themselves and their experiences. Personal stories and emotions authenticated each scene. “It made me feel close to everybody in our cast,” said cast member Mia Kendall.

Once the actors felt they had what they needed, the hard part began. Each cast of around ten students distilled their mountains of ideas into eloquent, concise pieces. By Oct. 22, they were prepared for their debut.

The variety and emotional complexity of the shows blew DePaul audiences away. Each performance combined elements of movement and dialogue to deliver compelling messages about identity, growth, mental health and more.

One show, titled “Kaleidoscope,” embraced variety on every level. Elements of song, dance and speech kept the audience on their toes as actors explored different topics that affected them. In one moment, the audience held back tears as Sonya Coltin bid farewell to childhood. In the next, they howled as Daniel McNeill lip-synced “Cool for the Summer” in a hilarious office scene.

Our guide through this adventure, lovingly nicknamed Carl Sagan, was played by Reese Parrish. She describes the character as “an entity taking human form to communicate.” The entity appears as a parent, god, guide and host, tying the intricate scenes together.

According to Parrish, Carl Sagan is an amalgamation of the cast’s ideas and stories — a reflection of the time spent devising the show.

As the class began, the “Kaleidoscope” cast started crafting personal manifestos. These manifestos expressed each student’s reason for pursuing acting. “They were the starting point for the show,” Kendall said. “As we kept devising, we got new prompts that made up the rest.” The prompts which followed asked students to generate pieces related to childhood, dreams, villains, news and more. The patchwork of ideas and pieces quickly fused into a dazzling performance.

Another show, “Untitled,” followed a more classic formula. Directed by Rob Adler, the performance centered around the pandemic lockdown. The show begins at the outset of the COVID-19 breakout and continues chronologically. The first scene is an elaborate movement piece wherein the actors explore the question: “What is the last thing you remember from before the pandemic?”

From there, scenes depicting lockdown life walk us through the mental and physical effects of isolation. Movement pieces return intermittently throughout the show, reminding the audience of the actors’ versatility. The focal point of the show, unofficially titled “The Long Depression Dance,” depicts “the turning point in lockdown,” Schnitzer said. “The show then turns from a struggle for survival to how we can learn from [the pandemic] and be grateful,” he continued.

The cast’s method for devising the show included an assortment of strategies. To learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses, director Rob Adler started them off with acting games and improvisation. As the quarter progressed, the cast would receive writing prompts asking them to reflect on the pandemic and the emotions they experienced. “He was equipping us with the tools we needed to create whatever we were going to create,” Schnitzer said.

The cast of “@shaelynn_falls tbh you seem cool” adopted a more loosely structured approach to the creation process. Their method involved long discussions about identity and experience. For the cast, composed mostly of people of color, this often meant reckoning with racially-predicated constructs in our society. “We started by discussing our different lived experiences within these identities,” explained actress Tryumph Williams. “It was very conversational.”

As the students discussed, director Jasmine Jordan pointed out moments she felt were worth expanding on. These moments would come to comprise the performance.

As the show got on its feet, the cast maintained the same free-form attitude. Jordan, a neo-futurist, allowed the show to remain improvisational. “It was more about working with what we knew the actors were capable of, rather than restraining them to lines,” Williams said.

The performance navigated pressing societal issues while maintaining a decidedly light and fun tone. Each actor wore pink as comedic scenes explored the issue of hypersexualization in our generation’s media. Topics of identity also appeared throughout the piece as every actor was given the chance to speak their truth.

The Intro to Performance shows captured the range of talent at DePaul’s Theatre School. Each student brought something unique and meaningful to the table. Some delivered contemporary monologues. Others indulged in grand soliloquies or elaborate movement pieces. No matter how the actors chose to express themselves, every word and every movement was completely original and true to the heart.

Next year, the sophomores will graduate from the small classrooms where the Intro to Performance shows were held. Their talent will soon grace DePaul’s main stage and reach new audiences beyond the collegiate community. Until then, they will continue to hone their craft through devising and performing new and exciting pieces.