Theater Department Thinks Outside the Boxes

Sixteen voices echo off the walls of the black box theater. Just seconds before, sock-clad feet were finding their places for the opening number, and hearts were beating with anticipation as Matthew Higgins Iati ’17 played the song’s intro chords on the piano. It’s the first run-through of the beginning of this winter’s devised musical, Boxes, and the cast’s hard work is finally coming together into a coherent show.

The songs, poems, and personal stories told in Boxes are centered on the theme of identity and the boxes we are placed in. The cast (myself included) began meeting the first week of winter term, when they gathered with notebooks and pens and compiled a list of all the “boxes” other people place them in, as well as the ones with which they most deeply identify. From there, each cast member brainstormed ideas for songs and texts to channel their own story. Original texts tie popular musical theater pieces that you’ll recognize instantly to lesser-known songs you’ll be sure to add to your playlist as soon as the bows are taken.

Boxes is unlike anything Groton has done before. It bears a slight resemblance to The Laramie Project of the fall of 2015 in that it is built with “Moment Work,” small mini-scenes pieced together using various aspects of theater such as lighting, props, sound, and movement. But little else will be familiar to the audience when they file into the black box on February 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th.

Writing and rehearsing a musical in six weeks is no easy feat. Rehearsals have been long, and in the beginning it seemed like the segments would never come together. The cast arrives at the CPAC shortly after classes and stays until after the sun is long gone, putting in hours of work each day. But with the help of director Nicole Harris, who also choreographed last year’s production of The Wiz, the show is coming together. The idea for a show addressing the theme of identity occurred to Harris in the aftermath of the Orlando nightclub shootings last June. Lily Cratsley ‘19 is “excited to spark discussion as a catalyst for change,” and, along with the rest of the cast, looks forward to seeing how the community will react to this bold new show.

It’s an honest performance. The cast becomes vulnerable. There aren’t characters in the musical. Each student plays him or herself. They’ve written slam poems about race, poverty, and gender roles. There are a couple original songs. The goal isn’t to fix the problems we face, but to take a creative stance in addressing them. Stage manager Becky Lipson ’20 understands that the topics touched aren’t new, but the expressions through song, dance, and text make Boxes original. It doesn’t leave the realm of reality. You won’t walk out of the theatre with an idea of how to instantly fix the world. But you might leave with an extra bounce in your step.