• Student Life
Play Reading Series Spotlights Student Authors & Directors

Periwig’s annual Stephens Fall Play Reading Series honors one Lawrenceville legend and provides a launching pad for future ones. Named for Jean S. Stephens (Periwig advisor for nearly six decades, an honorary member of five classes, and both a Lawrenceville parent and grandparent), the evening will showcase original works by playwright and director teams Emily Hammond ’23 and Adeline Zhou ’23 (“How to Get a Coffee”), plus Lina Olazabel ’22 and Kate Dillard ’22 (“Roll Sisyphus!”). The event is led by Stephens Play Reading Series Manager Kajal Dongre ’22. We went behind the scenes with the quintet to learn about their roles, experiences, and hopes for the show.

What is your job as Reading Series Manager?

Kajal Dongre: I coordinate with the directors, playwrights, and tech team to make sure that everyone is clear on the process even before we start auditions. I run the auditions with the help of the Periwig Council, but I am not involved in the casting process. As we get ready for the performance, I check in with the directors and the techies each week to make sure that everything is running smoothly while doing PR and informing the student body about the event. After the performance, I immediately reach out to the director of next term's play reading!

Why is it important for Lawrenceville to provide this showcase for student playwrights?

KD: Lawrenceville has many opportunities for students to act, direct, and get involved with tech/stage management. But that leaves out a significant part of the creative theatrical process: Playwriting. Holding a play reading series where students can showcase their work provides a low-stakes and supportive environment where students can experience a different form of storytelling, share their unique ideas and perspectives, and see peers bring these ideas to life.

What is your “elevator description” of your play,“How to Get a Coffee”?

Emily Hammond: Starbucks plays a large part in many students' everyday lives at Lawrenceville, but do we ever think about how the baristas feel? This is a play about a caffeine addict in a hurry and a barista looking for a more meaningful interaction.

What inspired you to write this play?

EH:  I was challenged to write a two-person play where one person wanted something tangible and the other wanted something intangible.

Have there been any times when your vision differed from that of the director? 

EH: The goal of this reading is for me to hear my own work read by other people. This exercise has helped me further develop the characters and rewrite and expand the play for a future production.

This isn’t the first time your play has been produced, correct?

EH: This will be the third time this play had been produced; the first time being a reading produced by professionals at McCarter Theatre as part of the new playwrights festival and the second time in the North Haven, Maine playwright festival.

What’s it like to hear your words come to life?

EH: It has been amazing to work with the actors and director because everyone brings so much energy and life to the pages.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

EH: I am so excited for this amazing opportunity. I am very excited for the audience feedback session scheduled at the end of the reading. I know I will learn and grow as a playwright.

What is your role as director of “How to Get a Coffee”?

Adeline Zhou: I would describe my role as a director as someone who does their best to try and bring out the best in both the actors and the play.

Why did you want to direct “How to Get a Coffee”?

AZ: I was interested in directing this play because I had read some of Emily’s (the playwright) other plays before, and found them very enjoyable to watch/read.

How have you worked with Emily to make her words come of life off the page?

AZ: In order to make sure the playwright feels I am doing her play justice, I made sure I communicated with her beforehand about the general vision she had for her play.

Have there been any times when your vision differed from that of the playwright or an actor? How did you resolve that?

AZ: Although there are times my vision may differ from an actor’s or the playwright’s, I don’t think those moments are negative. In fact, I find it extremely beneficial when my ideas are challenged. It helps me take my thinking and my ideas to a new level of depth.

How was the cast selected?

AZ: The cast was selected through auditions earlier this year. While we weren’t looking for anyone/anything in particular, we felt that the actors we chose had a lot of potential to bring out the most of their character. Of course, everyone who showed up was amazing which made casting quite challenging.

Anything you’d like to add?

AZ: I believe that all the students involved in the Fall Play Reading Series have worked extremely hard, and I am excited to show/see the fruits of our work! I hope students enjoy!

What is your “elevator description” of your play,“Roll Sisyphus!”

Lina Olazabal: It is a modern-day comedy centered around the mythical figure Sisyphus as he is forced to roll a boulder for all eternity in the Underworld. But what will happen if Sisyphus simply decides to stop rolling the boulder?

What inspired you to write this play?

LO: During quarantine, I read a lot of books on Greek mythology and was inspired by the stories surrounding Sisyphus’ punishment after attempting to cheat Death twice.

Have there been any times when your vision differed from that of your director?

LO: I have given the director, Kate Dillard, full-reins on Roll Sisyphus!. I am super excited to see both our visions and interpretations brought to life!

Is there anything you would like to add?

LO: This play has never been performed before, so I’m thrilled to see it acted out for the first time!

What is your role as director of “Roll Sisyphus”?

Kate Dillard: My role as director is simply to create bonds between the cast members and help them figure out the right version of their characters. Chemistry between the actors is really important for a comedy like Roll Sisyphus, and each actor could portray their character in several different ways. So, my job is to bring everyone together, and make sure each character fits in well with the others.

Why did you want to direct “Roll Sisyphus”?

KD: Lina and I directed a show for Winterfest together last year, and we have similar styles of directing, so I had a feeling that her play would be a good fit for me. After reading the script, I loved the story and the tone of the play, so I agreed to direct!

How have you worked with the Lina to make her words come to life off the page? 

KD: Lina and I are always talking about the show, whether we're discussing little word changes or the characters' "vibes." She helped me pick the cast, and sometimes comes to rehearsals, so there is no problem combining our two visions into one performance.

Have there been any times when your vision differed from that of the playwright or an actor? How did you resolve that?

KD: There's one character, called "Death," who, contrary to what the name suggests, is meant to be a funny, light-spirited character. We've run into some difficulties making the character's humor shine through, but after working with the actor who portrays Death (someone who already has a naturally good sense of humor), we were able to play with the lines and make all the jokes crystal clear.

How was the cast selected?

KD: Lina and I selected our large cast after a series of 2-minute auditions that were open to the whole school. We had the auditioners read a short monologue from the play, and took some notes. Given the short production window, we chose actors based on character fit, and we picked leads who already had some acting experience to make our short rehearsals run smoother. So far, the experience has been great, everyone has been so fun to work with, and the show is really coming together.

Anything you would like to add? 

KD: I've directed a couple plays throughout my time in Periwig, but this one has been the most fun. I really loved getting to know the underclassmen in my class, and reconnecting with my senior actors after a long period of virtual shows. I'm looking forward to the play reading, and I'm excited to see my actors in Winterfest, too! Maybe I'll even end up directing some of them again.

The Jean S. Stephens Fall Play Reading Series will be performed on November 12, 7 p.m., in the Bunn Library McGraw Reading Room. The event is open only to current members of the School community.

For additional information, please contact Lisa M. Gillard Hanson, director of Public Relations, at lgillard@lawrenceville.org.