Senior Lauren Browning directs play that tackles gender norms

Sydney Swyers, staff writer

“I believe that theater holds a mirror up to life," senior Lauren Browning said. "It is time that our lives receive an authentic reflection.”
Photo by Donna Armstrong
“I believe that theater holds a mirror up to life,” senior Lauren Browning said. “It is time that our lives receive an authentic reflection.”

After three sessions of auditions, senior Lauren Browning sat with her production team, senior Zach St. Clair and junior Faith Knapp, to put together their cast list. The script called for 43 roles to be filled, but Browning decided she wanted to cast a small ensemble to portray all the roles. As time carried on, the three discussed which actors’ names would be listed and which would be left off. The night neared 11 o’clock as the team made its final decisions, casting a total of 18 actors and actresses. Although they said it was an extremely stressful night, it brought them closer as a team and as friends.

“I have learned the different difficulties that the production team faces versus the difficulties the performer does,” Knapp said. “In regard to casting we really understood what our director [Dan] Schmidt goes through every time he casts a show. We had to cast based on talent, but also who looked the part and who looked good together. I also learned a lot regarding different styles of directing and different views and ideas, which was really cool.”

“Are We Reviving Ophelia?” was written by Greg West and a group of high school students from Masconomet High School in Topsfield, Massachusetts in order to examine the role of females in society, as well as the role of society in females’ lives. The script itself focuses on the female lens while addressing the male perception of the female, the female perception of herself and the role of those perceptions within society. Browning said she felt drawn to the script, but wanted a piece that included a broader voice and was not strictly one-sided. She decided to combine the script with 19 of her original works, all inspired by events and conversations that she’s had as a teenager.

“This show means that all of us are able to take the mask off of society and show the vulnerability within us all,” senior Stephanie Kealey said.
Photo by Donna Armstrong
“This show means that all of us are able to take the mask off of society and show the vulnerability within us all,” senior Stephanie Kealey said.

“All of my original works were written using my experiences as a high schooler,” Browning said. “I have spent the past four years observing these occurrences. Some of the works are directly related to my personal experience and story. However, the vast majority were provoked by what I saw in the halls of high school. I wanted to accurately replicate the very real turmoil that pulses through these vulnerable teenage years.”

In order to achieve Browning’s goal, Browning and her production team decided that no Repertory Theatre members were allowed to audition. She did not think the show would reach its true potential if she directed her peers because they are essentially at her same level of knowledge and experience. She also wanted to give people a chance who do not get to perform often. Since the show was about the unheard voices of society, Browning wanted to represent the population that has yet to be heard.

“I feel like not letting Rep members join the show was bold,” junior cast member Travis Hampton said. “While we may not have the really strong, key actors that are used to being in a lot of shows, we have a group of young talented inexperienced actors that bring something different to the table. The idea is to have a story told by voices that haven’t been heard instead of the same faces we see in almost every Southwest show.”

As graduation day crept closer and closer, Browning knew that she needed to challenge herself before high school ended; she thought directing could be that challenge.

“I have always been drawn toward directing,” Browning said. “The directors I have worked with have been some of the most influential people in my life because they elicited my love of the craft. I desired to learn more about the process of the theater in order to expand my appreciation and ability as an actress. Directing has shown me an entirely different side of the production of theater. Usually, as an actress, I simply relay the message or story that I am told to. As a director, I decide what that story is.”

“People should be able to do what makes them happy, no matter what category it falls under," freshman Jaden Tatge said.
Photo by Donna Armstrong
“People should be able to do what makes them happy, no matter what category it falls under,” freshman Jaden Tatge said.

Time was a constant battle for Browning as a new director. Since all 18 cast members had conflicting schedules, it took her nearly nine hours to create a rehearsal schedule. She scheduled the actors in 15 minute rehearsal intervals in an effort to not waste their time. This resulted in Browning getting to school at 7 a.m. every morning and leaving the theater around 9 p.m. every night for the past couple months.

Browning has been auditioning for colleges and was in a different state every weekend during the rehearsal process. She would finish rehearsal around 8:15 p.m. on a Thursday night, fly out around 4 a.m. the next morning, fly home Sunday night, complete her homework, catch up on make-up work and then start all over on Monday. She also runs the Yoga and Pilates club, is a captain of the improv team, school mascot, a part of the top 10 percent of her class and a costume assistant for Miller Marley Dance Studio. Outside of that, Browning runs a face painting non-profit organization for children and volunteers. She says the process has been a balancing act, but has paid off in the end.

“Before this show I knew I loved this craft, but I couldn’t pinpoint why,” Browning said. “Now, I am confident in why I create, and I feel purposeful through my art form. I think it is crucial to examine our world and provoke change through awareness. Theater is pivotal. This show has been the defining factor of not only my senior year, but my career as an actress thus far. I now feel like I will enter college with a clear direction and motivation for my study and craft.”

“Gender norms need to end," junior Erin Thompson said.
Photo by Donna Armstrong
“Gender norms need to end,” junior Erin Thompson said.

Browning has been consistently acting since fourth grade and will be pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts in acting in college. She has constructed “Are We Reviving Ophelia?” as a piece of post-modern  theater with the use of semiotics and coding through four different senses. The show was meant to be an engaging experience for the audience. Because of that, Browning thinks that the take away for the audience should vary. Multiple messages were delivered in hope to encourage people to create their own perspective and create a change.

“This show is meant to enlighten people on social issues,  social norms and gender expectations,” Hampton said. “It has actually helped me realize some things that even I’m doing are wrong and hurtful. I never saw them that way, but it has shed light on things that I never even knew were an issue. Gender norms are there for every gender.  Guys are expected to be macho and girls are expected to be set aside. Often times we are blinded by what is expected of society, and we don’t see the wrong in front of us. This show takes the wrong and shoves it in your face.”