It was late in the evening on Friday night. Students start filing into the dance studio, getting ready for what the night has in store for them. Daniel Jackson, an actor, sits in the corner by himself reading over his script. Adam Murray, the stage manager, sets up black boxes and chairs across the floor, a make-do stage for the actors to work with.
I sit up front with the writer, director, and stage manager – feeling very official – bracing myself for the rumored raunchiness, but excited to see what the night had in store for me.
Before I know it, the rehearsal starts, and I see before me actors Jackson, Ryan Boeke, Mara Bailey, and Veronica Stevens in a scene about airplane toilets and pooping. The director, Jac Culpo, makes a note, saying, “looks like you’re having the shit of a lifetime.”
The show is Aisle 5, an original play written by Castleton alumnus Martin VanBuren III. The script, which started out as a short assignment that Dave Blow, a professor of journalism, had given to him in media writing in 2017. A year later, VanBuren developed his original script into a one-act show through a scriptwriting class.
“I brought it to Harry (McEnerny), and I was like, ‘hey, I wanna get feedback,’” said VanBuren. “It was just a general like, ‘hey, how’s it going, I think I wrote a show and I wanna get feedback.’ I was just really curious to pick Harry’s brain on the process for writing things because I haven’t had any massive experience doing something like this.”
McEnerny then brought students into his office. They read the script right then and there. The students were curious as to who wrote the show and when they were gonna put it on.
The script had been through many read-throughs and rewrites. Van Buren ultimately teamed up with Jac Culpo.
“He did a read-through for it at the end of the spring semester last year and I offered to help him with anything he needed, if he needed a person to bounce ideas off of,” said Culpo. “It just so happens that over the summer, he needed a person to bounce a lot of ideas off of. So over the course of the summer, I ended up becoming almost like the guy Martin went to with all of his ideas.”
Culpo ended up stepping into the role of director.
His first time directing.
The show won’t be on an actual main stage, but it’s a workshop. This means that the actors don’t have to be off-book and the performance is without technicalities. This is a process to smooth down any blemishes, make sure the script flows, and to see the audience’s reaction.
Actress Hannah Butt, a first-year nursing major, says the rehearsal process is a little different. There’s the same blocking and notes from the director, but it’s different due to the many changes. Butt started off with two characters, and now only has one. But she loves the student-run aspect of the show and wanted to be a part of something fun.
I witnessed the ever-changing script process. I saw Van Buren talking with Mara Bailey about a change to her lines.
Sophomore Ryan Boeke, a media and communications major, was nervous of getting his first lead, but feels more comfortable now with his character and lines with it being a workshop.
“I think it’s a cool way of doing a show, but it’s also tough.” said Boeke. “I know for me I have a tough time reading and saying my lines, and with holding I script I can’t really do as much and be as bold as I want to be.”
But despite Boeke’s concerns, he did not hold back during rehearsal, even with script in hand. I watched one scene involving Boeke’s character, Jake, and Daniel Jackson’s character, Oli, involving a clogged toilet, a plunger and sexual innuendos that had me hunched over with laughter and tears streaming down my face.
“Think of the show Big Mouth, tone it down a bit, and then put it in a play format, and that’s the show,” says Culpo. “It’s a comedy, it’s a very disgusting, raunchy comedy.”
The show is about a teenage boy who hasn’t hit puberty yet, but really wants to, so he makes a potion to force his way through puberty. The repercussions of that decision is displayed throughout the show.
VanBuren says that it’s almost like a coming of age story, with the character Jake wanting to grow up so bad. When he finally does, he wants to go back to being a kid, which is something we can all relate to.
“Not knowing that an audience is gonna come to the show will be pretty tough,” said Boeke. “This is an extremely different show than what we usually put on. A lot of times we’ll put on serious stuff in the blackbox, or try new things, but generally the genre of what we put on in the blackbox is pretty much the same. This is completely different. This is 180. So seeing who shows up for this and seeing how well we can promo this is a little bit nerve-wracking.”
But still, VanBuren has high hopes for the show. He hopes his target demographic – Soundings students – will be able to see the show and have fun, not knowing that theatre could be that fun.
He also hopes that other universities, his other target demographic, would want to perform the show themselves. He also hopes to have it licensed, and to maybe see an animated version of it someday.
“I hope that the word spreads about this show because it is definitely a must see. I think it’s something funny that you don’t see a lot in college theatre. This is definitely unique,” said Boeke.
The workshop performance dates are Feb. 19 and 20 in the Black Box Theater in the Fine Arts Center.