Day of Shame: Diving proudly into the campus theater experience

Jaden Satenstein | Contributing Writer

When a group of 23 actors and directors walked into the Village Black Box Theater Friday night, they had absolutely no idea what was in store for them. Twenty-four hours later, they emerged having created a show that is sure to be talked about for years to come.

The annual “Day of Shame,” a 24-hour play festival produced by Washington University’s oldest student group, experimental theater group Thyrsus, delighted audiences Saturday night by presenting five unique plays that had not existed the night before.

The Thyrsus board met with the actors, writers, directors and tech crew members Friday night to kick off the process by randomly dividing the company into five groups, each consisting of one to two writers, a director and one to three actors.

The board then announced the theme of the show: “I haven’t told my parents.” The writers, having just heard it for the first time, had to incorporate it into the 10-minute plays they stayed up all night to write, though the theme was never directly revealed to audience members. The writers were also given an extra challenge: They were each assigned a first line with which to begin their plays.

“My favorite part is that tonight we have nothing, but tomorrow we’ll have everything,” board member and senior Catey Midla said before Friday night’s kickoff meeting.

The plays were due to the Thyrsus board by 7 a.m. Saturday morning, and directors and actors gathered at 8 a.m. to begin to bring their writers’ works to life.

As the day went on, actors and directors worked tirelessly to stage and memorize the pages and pages of words they had just been handed. Crew members spent that time scrambling to gather the props and costumes requested by directors and creating the sound and lighting cues needed for each play.

When 10 p.m. arrived and the first play, “Dollar Store Menu” began, it became clear to audience members that they were in for a special experience.

The play began in the dark, as the audience heard first-year actor Maya Horn simulate a disappointing sexual encounter. Once the lights rose, Horn began to tell her character’s hilarious yet thought-provoking story of the unheard side of the sex trade.

“I’m a feminist icon,” remarked Horn, inducing uncontrollable laughter from the audience. “I provide a service, kind of like McDonalds.”

Through sophomore writer Zoe Cooke’s use of vivid imagery and Horn’s spotless comedic timing and spontaneity, audience members quickly felt as if they were experiencing the character’s wild encounters alongside her.

“It’s not really as much a scene as it is the character and the audience. The audience becomes the character when you only have one,” said freshman director Dakotah Jennifer.

Jennifer’s inclusive staging allowed every person in the room to feel as if Horn was speaking directly to them, a challenging feat when directing in the round.

“Dollar Store Menu” was a perfect play to get audience members excited for the show ahead of them, and it will be hard to forget the iconic moment when Horn bravely consumed a McDonald’s fish fillet in the middle of her performance.

Juniors Eric Judson and Ike Butler nailed the challenge of being assigned the first line, “Have you gotten your teeth removed yet?” Not only was this outrageous question seamlessly integrated into the story, but it became the premise for their play, “Hark! the Princess Speaks!,” which revolves around an argument between a queen and her daughter, who refuses to perform the traditional custom necessary to rule their strange kingdom—teeth removal.

Though the circumstances of the story may have been bizarre, the mother-daughter relationship portrayed by junior Abby Rubin and senior Nina Goode felt incredibly real and relatable.

The audience laughed through the entire show, as wild subjects like marriage, God and white teeth ads were introduced as twists and turns to the story. In the final moments, Goode performed a dramatic ode to ice cream.

The line, “I believe in God, because God believes in ice cream,” was both the strangest and most fitting way to conclude this wonderfully creative piece.

In “Houseplant,” actors Claire Kozak and Danny Teich’s natural chemistry while portraying a married couple expecting a child made their relationship feel so vulnerable and human that it was easy to forget about their extreme circumstances: being trapped in a bunker for four years during an apocalyptic war.

Regardless of the reality of their situation, writer Hannah Dains’ dialogue made the characters relatable and empathetic. Director Ellen Fields’ use of a plant prop when Teich jokes about having an affair with the plant in the bunker created a visually engaging comedic moment, while the couple’s embrace as the show commenced easily tugged at audience members’ heartstrings.

Senior Chisara Achifelu, writer of “Style of Love,” was given the added challenge of having her play randomly chosen to receive a surprise prop: a cardboard cutout of pop sensation Harry Styles.

What ensued was an endearing and hilarious conversation between two parents (Midla and senior Jordan Weinstock) and their teenage daughter (senior Kedzie Schuster) after she came home drunk from a party.

Achifelu’s perfectly-crafted archetypes of uptight parents and a rebellious teen complemented each other in an entertaining and relatable way. Schuster’s character, who at first appears unnecessarily defiant and disrespectful, ends up becoming incredibly sympathetic when she is no longer allowed to attend the concert of the love of her life, Harry Styles.

Director Madison Lee set the play at a pace that induced both laughs and silent moments that increased the awkwardness of the confrontation within the family. Audience members laughed so hard at one point that the actors needed to pause the action until everyone was finally able to gather themselves.

The final play, “In the Telling of It,” written by junior Hannah Richter and Zoe Morris, easily blew the minds of everyone in the room. When three kids (junior Mark Fernandez, Jordan Coley and freshman Reese Toomre) gather in their cabin on the last night of summer, they exchange a variety of stories.

The campers lie out on sleeping bags, occasionally rising to tell their stories. Director Julia Cohen strategically placed the sleeping bags facing toward the center of the stage in order to allow each audience member an equal perspective.

As the play goes on, the campers must guess whether or not the other kids’ stories are true, which eventually leads the actors to successfully convince the audience that whether or not something is “true or false” is far from the point.

“Who cares if it’s false? It happened in my mind. And it happened in yours when I told it to you,” says one kid regarding his story.

At one point, a loud “woah” escaped the mouths of audience members, as their conception of “true or false” had been completely transformed.

After 24 hours of hard work, actors, directors, writers, Thyrsus board members and the unsung heroes of every production, the tech crew (light operator Benjamin Gaffney, crew members Olivia Ratinoff and Hannah Dains), left the Black Box having had an incredibly unique artistic experience. Their sense of pride and appreciation for what they created was palpable.

“As someone who only usually does tech, this is a great opportunity to get naked and weird for the art,” said Kozak, referring to her revealing army-style costume from “Houseplant.”

Audience members were left in awe of the plays, and greatly appreciated all the elements that contributed to the show’s success.

“I felt like it inspired me in every way that a person could be inspired,” freshman Grace Meyers said after watching the show. “It was so creatively enlightening. I’m just so impressed to be going to school with students that are so out of the box.”

Though this year’s Day of Shame may have been centered on the theme “I haven’t told my parents,” it was definitely something to write home about.

Correction: This article has been updated to accurately list the crew members who worked on the production.