Dig Baton Rouge

LSU MFA students present theatrical works

By Tara Bennett

The LSU Swine Palace presents eight stunning, thought-provoking one-act plays for the MFA Resident Ensemble from Dec. 6 to Dec. 14.

Every two years, MFA candidates from the LSU Theatre Department create the Swine Palace resident ensemble and as such, perform in most of Swine Palace’s productions. The MFA Resident Ensemble this year includes: Colt Neidhardt, Joe Morris, Tim Moriarty, Addie Barnhart, Amar Atkins, Amanda Clark, Ashley Adams and Maggie McGurn. As part of their MFA program requirement, each candidate conceives, writes and stages their own theatrical work.

“Each of our shows are very distinct and different,” said Moriarty. “We were encouraged over the course of our time here to just come up with different ideas.”

No Editing

Each show creates unique performances drawn from the artists’ lives, experiences and imagination, and showcases their skills and abilities that they have honed as graduate candidates.

“There were a lot of stories I wanted to tell, and so I was encouraged not to edit myself,” said Moriarty. “When I first started, I was editing as I went, and one of the faculty members encouraged me not to edit, to just write. We were encouraged to let the creative juices flow and out of that process figure out what is the story we wanted to tell.”

Rehearsal for “Joan” – which showed Dec. 6 and 7 – with actress Amanda Clark and actor Colt Neidhardt.
Rehearsal for “Joan” – which showed Dec. 6 and 7 – with actress Amanda Clark and actor Colt Neidhardt.

Many of the actors wrote from a more autobiographical point of view. Moriarty’s piece is a comedic piece as he decides whether or not to remain a Jesuit seminarian, and invites the audience to go with him through the different stages of his spiritual journey. Another autobiographical performance is by Adams, who chose to write about her aunt who went missing and the effect it had on her family. In her piece she plays not only herself, but the voices of other family members.

“It’s kind of interesting in that we have different stories we’re passionate about that we’re willing to tell,” said Moriarty.

Tender Nerves Struck

While other candidates draw on their own personal experience, some artists drew from the lives of others, who have struck a chord. Joe Morris’ thesis performance centers on American citizen, Saeed Abedini, who is imprisoned in his homeland of Iran. Morris received special permission from Abedini’s wife, Naghmeh Abedini, to adapt a script based on actual letters and correspondences based on Abedini’s experience in Iran’s most notorious and brutal prisons. According to Morris, Pastor Saeed was wrongfully arrested in September 2012, and sentenced to eight years in prison for “conspiring to undermine the Iranian government.” Abedini went back to Iran, after becoming a US citizen, with permission to do social work and build orphanages, but was kidnapped off a bus and detained with the charge of building home churches from years before (when it was legal to do so). Abedini committed no crime, but is being held because of his Christian faith.

“This piece has a special meaning for me,” said Morris. “One reason is I am a Christian. And with the current violence against Americans/Christians in the Middle East, it strikes a tender nerve for me. But my other reason is, I find it unbelievable that our country is not doing more for our citizens being tortured, both physically and psychologically, in other countries. This is especially prevalent with the recent stories of the US hikers (Sarah Shroud, Joshua Fattal, Shane Bauer), Arizona ex-marine (Amir Hekmati), CIA agent (Bob Levinson), and all our journalists being held captive and even, at times, executed. It seems as if our country has forgotten our own.”

Passion Fuels the Process

As with any artistic project, there were challenges for the candidates while developing their work.

“I had to learn a Persian dialect, and even a bit of Farsi, to play Saeed truthfully,” said Morris. “This wasn’t easy for me. Also, I transform between Saeed and a prison guard during the performance with lots of combat-like movement. Making both characters specific, and trying to understand the psychological effects of solitary confinement, was challenging, but fun.”

“We were encouraged to let the creative juices flow and out of that process figure out what is the story we wanted to tell.”

“I think for me, it’s the idea of being on stage alone for 30 minutes or so,” said Moriarty. “The idea of being alone up there telling a story is kind of daunting.”

Though the process in creating their solo shows came with challenges, the artists were able to fully understand all that comes with creating a theatrical piece.

“I learned that being passionate about a cause fuels every aspect of the process,” said Morris. “I want as many people as possible to see the show so we can raise awareness about Saeed’s story, to inspire action to help him and other missing US citizens. I also learned that I could actually be a solo artist if I want to continue with this work. I never thought myself to be the type of actor to create solo shows, but now I have one.”

Friday, Dec. 12 at 7:30 p.m.

“Prisoner in the Darkness”

Joe Morris

This piece is based on the letters and correspondences of American citizen, Saeed Abedini.  Saeed was wrongfully arrested in his homeland of Iran, and has been held for over two years in the country’s most notorious and brutal prisons.  His crime?  His Christian faith.

“Lucky Charms”

Tim Moriarty

Tim Moriarty asks the big questions: What is the meaning of life? What does it mean to believe/not believe in God? Why is Lucky Charms the Holy Grail of cereals? We join Tim in the chapel, in the midst of the biggest decision of his life: whether or not to remain a Jesuit seminarian. In his search for answers, he invites the audience on a comedic odyssey through the different stages of his spiritual journey.

Wednesday, Dec. 10 at 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, Dec. 13 at 7:30 p.m.

“The Weight of Smoke”

Addie Barnhart

Inspired by women from Greek mythology, “The Weight of Smoke” is an artist’s journey to self-discovery through eight characters’ lives in moments of profound loss of home, identity and love and asks the question of what remains when left with nothing.

“Augmented Renaissance: From Creation to Revelation”

Amar Atkins

What happens to a dream deferred? The answer to this question is explored by Amar, as five of August Wilson’s most popular characters are set in a 1920′s Jazz Juke Joint during the Harlem Renaissance!

“Ages of [Wo]Man”

Amanda Clark

Explores Shakespeare’s insights into aging through her solo performance centered on Jacque’s “Seven Ages of Man”. Amanda confronts her fear of aging, through a journey that courses from infancy to old age.

Thursday Dec. 11 at 7:30 p.m.

Sunday Dec. 14 at 2 p.m.

“Ambiguous Loss”

Ashley Adams

A poetic slam-type, stream of consciousness-like piece by MFA actor, Ashley Adams, about ambiguous loss and what you really lose when a loved one goes missing.  Ashley performs as herself, but also as her grandparents, aunts, cousins, and sister as she speaks of the effects of July 10, 1987, the day her Aunt Sharon went missing and never returned.


“The Corner of 26 and Lost”

Maggie McGurn

The last place I thought I would find myself at 26 was living in my parent’s attic with no door. What do you do when life seems to hit a dead end, love and the need to follow your dream pulls you in separate directions, and a family legacy that has always been a source of release starts feeling like part of the road block? The Corner of 26 and Lost attempts to answer that question.




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