Playwrighting Senior Capstone Experience takes audience into the world of “Grendel”

Jude Souazoube

Elm Staff Writer

Tawes Experimental Theater was filled with students, parents, and community members who came to see “Grendel,” a playwriting Senior Capstone Experience by senior Sophia Rooks. The production’s show dates were March 30, 31, and April 1 at 7:30 p.m. 

            Theatre majors are required to complete a SCE to satisfy the requirements for the major. According to the Department of Theater & Dance website, students can complete this in three ways. One such way is for a student to “write, workshop, and produce a rehearsed reading of a full-length play.”

Rooks did just that and wrote and produced a play adapted from the 1971 novel of the same name, by John Gardner. The production followed the character Grendel, played by senior Zach Papatheodorou, a monster who lives in a cave with his mother Gammel-en, played by junior Julia Stanley.

Grendel begins to grow curious about human civilization, however the people he meets are fearful and attempt to kill him. In desperation, King Hrothgar, played by sophomore Ian Hewes, calls in Beowulf, played by sophomore Sam Steptoe, to complete the task.

“I knew this was going to be an incredible show from the first design meeting; hearing all the exciting ideas the designers had from day one,” Rooks wrote in the producer/playwright’s note.

According to the play’s description, the production touched on various topics from understanding purpose to philosophy and religion. It included humorous lines, artistic set designs, and action-packed fight scenes. The fight scenes were planned by Fight and Intimacy Choreographer Sierra Young, an artist working in the D.C./Baltimore area.

Recognizing the physical intensity of the role of Beowulf, Steptoe, who also played the role of Unferth, studied the character and took steps to physically prepare for the role such as body building.     

“I immediately went to work with character development…I definitely went to the gym a bit more. I just really wanted [the role of Beowulf] bad,” Steptoe said.

Like other presentations, the cast of Grendel was not exempt from facing and overcoming challenges that arose in preparation for the show.

“We were working with very large set pieces, although there weren’t many of us…but we did get everything done together,” said junior Skye Hass, who played Other, a physical manifestation of Grendel’s conscience in the production.

The small but mighty cast put together a production that captured the audience.    

“I really liked how they focused on storytelling throughout the play. It showed how stories affect how people live their lives after hearing them,” junior Torey Simpson said. Simpson attended closing night.

Though the show has come to an end, the cast is walking away with memorable experiences and lessons.

“My biggest takeaway is to be grateful for the fact that I had the opportunity to work with as skilled of actors as I was…when I walked in on the first day of rehearsals, I walked in there and smiled seeing so much talent in the room,” Steptoe said.

Rooks shared her gratitude to the Department of Theatre & Dance for helping her realize she wanted to be a theater major.

“Without them, I wouldn’t have written ‘Grendel,’ and the list of people to thank is miles long,” Rooks said in the show’s playbill.

More SCEs are underway to debut on the Tawes stage in April. Students can see “Masculinity Max,” a performance SCE from senior Archer Bergman on April 7 and 8 at 7:30 p.m. “On the Verge,” a set design SCE from senior Rose Hull, will be April 21 and 22 at 7:30 p.m.

Photo courtesy of Sophie Foster

Photo Caption: “Grendel’s” production used flashes of lights and sounds to richen the experience.

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