Sunday, July 21

Graduate student’s play to hit the stage with big impact from actors

Third-year theater student Kelsey Kato (left), Zachary Dushenko (center) and Jessie Guthrie (right) are a part of graduate student Joe Samaniego's play "Me, Myself and the Apocalypse." (Anthony Ismail/Daily Bruin)

Third-year theater student Kelsey Kato (left), Zachary Dushenko (center) and Jessie Guthrie (right) are a part of graduate student Joe Samaniego's play "Me, Myself and the Apocalypse." (Anthony Ismail/Daily Bruin)

Joe Samaniego used the rehearsals for his play as inspiration for the final characters he created.

The MFA student said his interaction with both the play’s director Jeff Maynard and the actors led him to alter multiple parts of the script, including dialogue and character development.

“Me, Myself and the Apocalypse,” written by Samaniego, follows the story of two college graduates from Los Angeles named Elton and Augie. In an attempt to get away from city life, the two, along with Augie’s girlfriend Lauren, end up visiting a desert to escape technology and discover themselves. The play, which marks the opening of the School of Theater, Film and Television’s theater season, will premiere Thursday at Macgowan Hall 1340.

Samaniego said he initially paid little attention to the character of Lauren, but after casting fourth-year theater student Camille Wormser for the part, he said he reconsidered the character’s importance in the play. Wormser said her character gained qualities such as intelligence and intuition, as well as heavier involvement throughout the second act. Samaniego added having a face and voice to connect with the character made her more real for him, and he realized the plot needed to change.

“She originally was just a device to launch me into the second act, but then I realized that there was more there,” Samaniego said. “Based off the way the script wanted to be, and based off of the actress’ performance as well, I felt like she needed to be in that second half of the play.”

Wormser said she also felt her personality make its way into her character Lauren – especially her sass. Samaniego modified the script to capture Lauren’s new qualities, including Wormser’s impudence, which is displayed in the on-again, off-again nature of Lauren’s relationship with Augie.

Kelsey Kato, a third-year theater student, also influenced the role of his character through speech patterns that echo his own. Because the play is original rather than a production of a pre-existing script, Kato said he was able to ad-lib a few words into his lines. While the words were not purposefully added – results of semantic memorization of lines rather than verbatim quoting – Samaniego modified parts of the script during rehearsals to better capture Kato’s unique voice as his character. Kato said the whiny nature of Elton comes from the way he interpreted the character.

“In approaching any play, I feel like with any character, it’s bridging a gap between you and that person,” he said. “It’s cool to have that extra aspect that there’s a playwright there helping build that bridge in the text.”

Maynard, a UCLA alumnus and lecturer in the theater, film and television department, said the actors began rehearsing with preconceived views of the ways they each interpreted their characters and how their lines should be played. Having faces for the characters helped both him and Samaniego visualize the play and adjust the script to fit the brusque and smart-mouthed manners that the actors brought to their characters.

Some of the changes made to the script were based not only on the personality of the actors but on their physical characteristics as well. Kato said a few lines he added into the script make light-hearted jokes about the appearance of the actual actors. For example, the actor who plays Augie has a relatively large nose compared to the rest of the cast, so the script grew to incorporate a few comments poking fun at the observation, Kato said.

Samaniego said he was able to fine-tune the play to include specific qualities of the actors because he was personally involved in the production and practices. Having a playwright who attends the rehearsals is the key to having a new play that can work without any issues, he said.

“It does help to be in the room because if things don’t work from a structural standpoint, I’m there to help figure out what the issue is,” Samaniego said. “There are times where we have changed it on the fly, gotten lines out of nowhere or changed entire scenes.”

The cast rehearses every weeknight. Samaniego said he is grateful to be creating a play instead of working on a tried-and-true classic because it gives him the ability to make changes based on the cast and their renditions of his own characters.

“This particular production, I’ve been more involved with more than any other production that I’ve ever written in my life,” he said. “That’s because it’s more of a play-development kind of situation.”

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Countryman is the 2018-2019 Music | Arts editor. He was previously an A&E reporter. He is a second-year communication student.

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