Thyrsus’ ‘The Realness’ emphasizes the ‘reality’ in reality television

Jordan Coley | Contributing Writer

Washington University’s experimental student theater group Thyrsus is staging “The Realness,” a play written and directed by senior Grace Haselhorst, Nov. 9-11. The show opens with what seems like a stereotypical college party, but “The Realness” is more enjoyable than any college party.

The play rotates between interviews with reality television stars and a series of conversations between two college friends. Though reality television is known for being very scripted and artificial, vulnerability is an integral part of the show. The two friends tell each other deeply personal information—how they feel about connecting with others and themselves—and it definitely feels real. In the reality TV scenes, there’s definitely the drama you’d typically expect from shows like “The Bachelor” or “Teen Mom,” but there are noticeable moments when the reality television stars actually open up to the audience, and it draws you in.

Promotional poster for "The Realness".

Promotional poster for “The Realness”.

The fact that “The Realness” was written and directed by a Wash. U. student makes it more compelling. This isn’t her first play, but she says “I think this is the one I’m most proud of.” Haselhorst is “very interested in the way relationships serve as like, entertainment” on television and in the media, and how emotions are almost treated as a commodity. Millions of people tune in weekly to watch reality TV, and those who participate in those shows are essentially profiting off of their emotions, real or fake. What “The Realness” does is make audiences examine how emotions are valued and how sharing your emotions is such an act of vulnerability.

Ellen “Elphie” Fields, a freshman acting in the show, said “the goal of this play is really to just get people to think, and hopefully feel something. And I don’t really think that it’s necessarily up to us to dictate what those feelings or questions should be; it’s more important that they ask something of some variety.”

Emotions are an inherently subjective thing, and the show definitely challenges people to think about their own emotions, and how they feel about vulnerability.

Another interesting aspect about ‘The Realness’ is where it’s staged—in a basement. Senior Catey Midla, production manager and co-president of Thyrsus, acknowledged that “it’s very difficult because…we kind of had to like, see a space that was not clear, and imagine what the best way for an audience to fit into it was.”

I’ve never watched a live play performed in a basement before, but all of the hard work the production team went through definitely paid off. The smaller staging area made the performance seem more intimate, the setting making it easier for the audience to interact with the actors.

“The Realness” is an incredibly enjoyable, emotional and thought-provoking play. Tickets will be sold in the Danforth University Center from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday and Friday and can also be purchased at the door. Showings are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. at 6128 Waterman Boulevard.