“Aliens” by Annie Baker, an ETB show directed by senior Carleton theatre veteran Bethany McHugh will grace the stage sixth weekend.
The show, with a small cast of three actors: John Cronin ’18, Peter Alexander ’16, and Nathan Bern ’17, tells the poignant story of an unlikely friendship between two “hippie type” thirty-year-old men and as Bern describes, an “awkward and uncomfortable” 17-year-old barista.
“Aliens” is not particularly plot driven; McHugh describes it as an in-depth “character study of these three young men.”
The two thirty-year olds are, according to McHugh, “stoner types” who “loiter” on the back patio of a coffee shop. Both men are dropouts who are into “playing music, doing drugs, hanging out, and just talking about life,” says McHugh. The 17-year-old, on the other hand, is “straight-laced.”
“Aliens” tells the story of these three men who all somehow feel “alienated” from society and feel “emotionally stuck,” says Bern. Despite their obvious differences, “Aliens” shows how these men “fit together” and form bonds.
McHugh describes the play as encompassing a “kind of funny sadness that I find really poignant.”
The show presents unique challenges because unlike most shows, there’s a large amount of silence.
“There’s a direction at the beginning of the play that says, ‘this play should be at least 1⁄3 silence,’” says McHugh.
McHugh finds that one of her greatest challenges as an actress is the ability “to sit on stage and not talk.” As a director, one of her goals is to “make actors feel comfortable enough to hang out onstage and live in the discomfort of silence.”
One of the exciting aspects of this emphasis on silence is that it feeds into the show’s “realism.” McHugh explains that the show is supposed to be about “finding the flow of natural conversation.”
For Bern, an exciting aspect of experimenting with silence is that when “working with that minimal space where there’s no verbal contact,” the characters are engaging with each other and “experiencing the world” in a way that’s just as complex as the moments that contain words.
In addition to working with the play’s intense themes like “alienation, awkwardness, and loss,” one of Cronin’s favorite parts of the ex- perience so far has been “getting to know” his castmates, director, and co-director.”
McHugh agrees that there is huge benefit to having “a tight-knit” ensemble. She also finds the show’s “musical elements” to be an exciting challenge.
Two of the characters play the guitar, and all three “sing in some capacity.” In this way, the actors “put themselves out there,” which is something that “not a lot of male actors, at Carleton especially” are used to.
For both McHugh and the actors, a challenging, yet essential part of the process has been table-work, which involves breaking down the script and dissecting characters’ tactics, objectives, and other components of characterization.
Cronin finds that the characters have a great deal of “depth,” and that, like real people, these characters are often “inscrutable in their actions, so you have to spend lots of time deciphering what they’re feeling” and how that translates onstage.
As for McHugh’s role as director, this is the first full-length show she’s directed by herself, although she has been involved in theatre at Carleton in some regard, mostly through acting, every term of her college career. McHugh hopes to incorporate her experience as an actress into her work as a director. “I’ve heard from directors who I really trust that being an actor first makes you a better director because you know what it’s like to be on stage,” says McHugh. “Being an actor is incredibly vulnerable, so being in touch with that and knowing how far you can push the actors in a given rehearsal is crucial.”
Cronin agrees that McHugh’s experiences as an actress benefit her directorial skills. He says that she is “an incredible actress who knows how to convey her talents to others.”
Similarly, Bern notes that her acting skills “give her insight into what is and isn’t helpful to an actor,” which has helped her to create exercises that benefit the cast.
Looking ahead, Bern is excited to get the show up on its feet. For him the fun of acting is getting to “live the show.” “That’s why I love this;” he says, “You get to sit in someone’s shoes for a little while and see the world through their eyes.”
Audiences can expect to see a touching show with elements of both sadness and humor that explores themes like friendship, alienation, and identity. “Aliens” will open sixth weekend.