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Hilltop keeps the language of theater alive with ‘The Language Archive’

A man sitting on a bed with a remote speaking to a man in a blazer on a chair.
Meghan Spargo / THE GATEPOST

By Liv Dunleavy

Staff Writer

From April 21 to April 25, nine students all gathered at 6 p.m. in the Dwight Performing Arts Center to put together this year’s play during tech week.

From running lines over and over to adjusting tedious timings and cues, The Hilltop Players worked to make sure their show was the absolute best it could be for opening night.

In the end, the hard work culminated into two amazing performances of “The Language Archive” by Julia Cho on April 27 and 28.

Will Nee, a graduating communication arts major, who played the lead, George, said they auditioned for the play because of their past experience with director Emma Lyons. 

“I’ve acted in shows of hers, she’s acted in shows that I’ve helped in putting on, and so it’s always been a very fun, very pleasant experience,” they said.

Nee said they didn’t have any experience with theater until college, outside of one play in elementary school, due to their middle and high school not having theater programs.

“When I got to FSU for accepted students day and orientation, one of the orientation leaders was one of the co-captains of the improv team,” they said.

“He asked if I had any interest and I said yes, and in my very first semester of freshman year I auditioned and got in. Shortly thereafter in the spring, I auditioned and got a role in the musical,” they added.

When Hilltop started to put on shows again after COVID-19 restrictions eased, Nee said they acted in a number of plays at FSU, as well as working as a part of production staffs. 

“One of the biggest things about George in the show is that he’s kind of just having a terrible time, all the time,” they said.

“Outside of the production and outside of school, I’ve had a number of things happen in my life that were not exactly the greatest. So for a good portion of the semester, I was in that headspace of ‘I’m not having a great time right now.’ So it made it easier to connect to the character,” Nee added.

“Acting has certainly helped me in terms of my growth and development as a person,” they said.

They said coming to college, doing improv and acting in these productions, allowed them to become these characters and it doesn’t matter what they say or do because at the end of the day, they are only acting, and that is how they’ll be perceived. 

“People could have these reactions and I knew it didn’t reflect on how they thought of me, and that certainly helped me a lot,” they said.

The director of the play was Emma Lyons, a junior English major. Lyons said she directed last semester’s play, “Cupid & Psyche” by Joseph Fisher, and it was her first time directing a play.

She said, “It was my first time on the other side of the stage because I’ve been an actor since seventh grade.

“At the end of that semester, I decided to propose another production … and I was a little bit motivated because no one else did it. And I was like, ‘Well someone has to direct a play.’”

Lyons said she participated as an actor in musicals and plays throughout middle and high school, and acted for her first couple of years in college. She added, “I was a part of the play ‘Goat Song Revel.’ I played God. That’s always a fun thing to tell people.

“The director was Olivia Copeland, and watching her direct and seeing how passionate and excited she was inspired me to try to direct,” she added.

“I was expecting it to be more difficult than it was,” she said.

“I knew there was so much that went on behind the scenes and I was worried I wouldn’t click with it. But being able to do a show like ‘Cupid & Psyche’ where I’m really passionate about the text and able to bring in my outside knowledge … it was like playing with dolls again,” she said.

Lyons said once she started directing, everything just clicked.

Two people walking hand-in-hand past a subway map.
Meghan Spargo / THE GATEPOST

She said, “In both my productions, my cast was so robust, I had rehearsals where I felt like Will, who plays George - I wouldn’t even finish a sentence and they would be like, ‘I’m gonna do this.’ 

“It was like they were reaching into my head and pulling out my little vision of what they would do and doing it perfectly,” she said.

“I don’t think I’m going to direct again, but I would encourage anyone to do it even if you don’t have that much experience with backstage because it’s a really enriching experience,” she added.

On the backstage side of this production, Zachary Sorel, a sophomore environmental science major, said their role in the production was the technical director of the play. They said they did all the planning for the set construction, and they also managed lighting and audio. 

“The director, Emma Lyons, reached out to me to see if I wanted to be the technical director and I accepted because it’s something I’m very interested in. I’ve technical directed a few other plays for Hilltop and it’s something I really enjoy,” Sorel said.

They said their role entails overseeing set construction, assisting with organizing and putting together the set, and during tech week, they oversee lighting and audio, including all the mics, sound effects, lighting cues, and “basically anything tech.”

Sorel said they’ve been in theater since seventh grade - eight years of experience. 

“If you’re interested in theater, join Hilltop. There are a lot of opportunities, not just acting. There’s tech crew, and also directing roles if you don’t want to be a full on director,” they added.

Audrey Ouellette, a sophomore English major, played George’s wife Mary, a troubled woman with a heavy decision to carry.

“She’s very sad, and isn't being listened to, so she goes on this journey to find herself, and she does,” Ouellette said.

Ouellette said she wanted to audition for the play no matter what, whatever it was. She looked up a short description beforehand and thought it was interesting.

She said Mary has her own sort of storyline, and she’s very sad and just cries a lot, and that’s kind of her whole thing. 

“It was very awkward, fake crying, even if it sounds real - doing it just feels weird, but I’ve learned to do it and I think it really adds to her,” she said.

“Her character progression changes so drastically that it was really fun to go through that and play so many different emotions for one character,” Ouellette said. “It’s really woman power.”

She said she’s been a part of many theater crews in high school, and never really acted. 

During her first semester in Hilltop, she played Linus in “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown” by Clark Gesner, and said, “A lot of my family really likes ‘Charlie Brown,’ and my mom always wanted me to be in a production, not just backstage so I was like, ‘OK, I’ll do it.’” 

Ouellette said this semester she really wanted to try the play, and she really enjoyed it. 

She said when getting into the mindset of Mary, she tried to look at life through her perspective and look “more deeply into the description in the lines she actually says because you can just read them and not understand them.”

A few FSU students played the roles of ensemble in this year’s play, including Spencer Pearson, a junior communications arts major. 

He said he was interested in doing the play because he had done theater in high school and it was something he remembered enjoying.

Pearson said his characters’ dialogue was sometimes hard to decipher.

“With my characters specifically, some of them have lines that are kind of clunky. And you’re just reading that and you’re like, ‘What on earth are you trying to say there?’” he said.

“You know, when I was reading through the script with the parts of Zamenhof, I did not realize he was supposed to be a ghost until someone pointed it out,” Pearson added.

Ray Webber, another ensemble cast member and junior political science major, said their main role is Alta, an “old woman who’s fighting with her husband and their language is dying.”

They said they also play a German instructor, a passerby, and a train conductor.

“I’ve always wanted to be a part of a play and I never knew if I had the skills for it or the ability to memorize those kinds of lines. I wanted a good part in a play,” they said. “I was like, it’s my final years on this campus - I may as well just audition, see what happens, and I got a part.”

Webber added, “I was a plate once, I was a tree once - not roles people would tend to go for. But I really wanted to try a big important role and not just silverware.

“It was a little disheartening at times, but you become really close with everyone else on the cast, and I think that’s what made me keep wanting to do it,” they said.

[ Editor’s Note: Emma Lyons is Copy Editor for The Gatepost. ]



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