From doing splits to playing the ukulele to passing out homemade cookies, the auditions for Occidental Theater’s storytelling extravaganza “If It Happened to You,” was a unique experience for Occidental actors. In lieu of a traditional monologue, guest directors David Crabb and Josh Matthews asked the actors to tell a story from their own lives. From the audition alone, the Occidental community was unsure what would come from the untitled Crabb/Matthew Project. Yet, just weeks later, “If It Happened to You” is a composed theater performance.
Crabb is an award-winning storyteller and best-selling author who has won the Moth Story Slam twice. Matthews, a celebrated clown, is highly trained in the realm of physical theater. The two worked together to devise a show using only the students’ stories. Every day in rehearsals, the 14 student actors came in and told their personal stories; Crabb and Matthews listened for connecting themes that would pull the narratives into a cohesive show. The stories ranged from heartbreaking tear jerkers to insane comedic adventures. Will Youmans (first year) was surprised by the diversity in stories and the collaborative nature of the process.
“It’s not just a bunch of actors trying to be the best. It’s people from a lot of different backgrounds coming together. It creates a much more interesting beast,” Youmans said.
This show does not fit into any specific category. It is genre-bending. According to Youmans, it is a love story, a coming-of-age story, a comedy and even a tragedy. Instead of sitting in a chair for two hours, guests will follow the actors through different rooms in Keck, each dedicated to a different theme. Through the movement and motion, each actor fluidly shifts roles. Eleanor Hall (sophomore) encourages people to come to the show without any assumptions.
“Get rid of expectations! Come in with an open mind and get ready to join us for the party.” Hall said via email.
Despite the magical, fantastical aspect of the performance, the emotions on stage are real. Rhys Hyatt (senior) emphasized that in traditional theater, actors can hide behind the mask of their characters, but not in this one. The cast gave a sneak preview of the show with a storytelling event Sept. 18 in the Green Bean. The actors each went up to a microphone and told their stories to the audience. Zoë Lerman (sophomore) said it was terrifying to get up and be exposed in front of strangers. The stories she told were close to her heart.
“It is difficult [to tell our stories], but the stage is my medium where I feel most comfortable being vulnerable. It’s really important to share these things, no matter how terrifying it might be” Lerman said.
The cast hopes, above all else, the audience will take away with them the idea that no one is ever alone. With such a wide diversity of stories told, “If It Happened to You” offers narratives to which everyone can connect. Hyatt notes the power that sharing stories can have in bringing people, the cast included, closer together.
“Through these stories I’ve felt a weight lifted off of my chest,” Hyatt said. “Once you tell somebody else and you have the comfort to have them share in your sorrow or happiness, they will share that with you free of judgement as a support system.”
Lani Cupo (junior) offers one last piece of encouragement for those still unsure about the show.
“If you care about our community, see the show. If you care about pain and healing, fighting and freedom, catching each other and lifting us up, see this show. You may not leave happy, or satisfied, you may not even like it. But you will have been part of something bigger than yourself,” Cupo said via email.
The show opens in Keck theater Nov. 17, and runs through Nov. 20. Tickets can be bought online or at the box office, but space is limited so make sure to reserve tickets ahead of time.
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