"Oleanna" Displays Inspired Acting and Directing in SMP

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Senior Jonathan Wagner, as part of his St. Mary’s Project (SMP), directed the production of David Mamet’s “Oleanna,” which ran from Thursday, March 22 to Saturday, March 24 in Montgomery Hall 25 at 8 p.m. and a 2 p.m. showing on Saturday.

“Oleanna” is about a power struggle between a university professor and a female student who accuses the professor of sexual exploitation, and therefore jeopardizes the professor’s pending tenure at the college.  According to Wagner, the show’s main topics include power struggle, language, sexual assault, and higher education.  “It’s a heavy piece,” said Wagner.  “It’s full of some stuff that people don’t always want to talk about.”

The two-character play, starring  sophomore Katie Henry  and  senior Tobias Franzen, was not only directed by Wagner, but was a group effort by all those who helped.  The major supports include the show’s actors and the stage and production managers, seniors Maria Tolbert and Emily Atkins,  first-year Hailey Rector, and junior DeAnna Clements.  “All seven were really instrumental in making the show happen,” Wagner said.

Wagner also mentioned a major  source of support throughout his entire project, not only the show, was his SMP mentor, Associate Professor of English Elizabeth Charlebois.  “She was the most insightful, helpful mentor, especially in how to approach the piece,” Wagner said.

Charlebois felt the same, calling Wagner’s project “truly extraordinary…What Jonathan, his wonderful actors, and dedicated production team did with ‘Oleanna’ is one of the very finest student achievements I have witnessed in my ten years at the College,” she said.

The show was only a part of Wagner’s full SMP, which is now in its “cool down period,” he said. The first part includes an 82-page critical analysis, which Wagner completed in the fall semester.  “Now I’m writing how we did [the show], what I learned as a director, and gauging audience reaction.”

Charlebois helped him choose “Oleanna” as the play to analyze and direct, and Wagner took off with it from there. “I played an active role in his research, writing, and revision process, but during the production phase I served mostly as a consultant and sounding board as he rehearsed the play with the actors,” she said.

As a director, Wagner tried, “to be very open. There was a lot of planning about how I wanted to stage the show.  I casted the show in the first week back [from Christmas break], had two months of rehearsal, and put on the show.”

Wagner mentioned that the show was popular among the community, nearly selling out every performance except Friday night, which Wagner attributes to the 50 Days until Graduation celebration for the senior class.

Wagner’s future plans after graduating in May include participating in the College’s Master or Arts in Teaching next year, after having graduated this year as an English major with a Theater Film & Media Studies, Educational Studies, and Music triple minor.  His eventual plans include teaching English and drama, as well as running after school programs at the high school level, while also directing regionally.

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