Senior Theatre Project Showcases Pazaski, Mitchell and Wong
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How many times in life does one wish to have a second chance; to revisit a moment and make a different choice or say a different word? Fourth-years Elaine Pazaski, Brynn Mitchell and James Wong explored this question in their senior theatre project, “The Nina Variations,” presented on campus in two performances this past weekend.
Hundreds of pages hung from the ceiling and scattered the floor of Porter Theatre, crumpled and torn, resembling the many paths that central character’s lives may have taken in their final moment together. It expands upon the classic play, Anton Chekov’s “The Seagull.”
Luckily, all three seniors felt similarly inspired by the opportunities waiting for them in playwright Steven Dietz’s “The Nina Variations.” Committed to showcasing each others’ talents and skills, the seniors divided up the roles in the way that felt most natural: Brynn Mitchell as director, Elaine Pazaski as lead female actress and James Wong as scenic designer.
Ironically, the seniors’ enthusiastic and synergistic collaboration lays the foundation for a powerful production that immerses the audience in the raw brokenness of human relationships.
Tragically painful and unsettling, main characters Nina and Treplev work out the 42 ways that their last interaction could have played out—with no variations resembling a happy ending.
The students had no qualms about sharing the spotlight, because they recognized early on in the process that each individual uniquely contributed to the piece as a whole by bringing with them the set of skills they have been building in the theatre department.
Mitchell stated, “Everything up to this point has bled into this production,” said director Brynn Mitchell. “Things learned from Mitchell Thomas, John Blondell, student directors and even my own bad ideas of the past that I have collected have all shown up here in some form.”
This project, though a year-long process, endeavored to highlight what the seniors have learned and worked for over their theatre career at Westmont.
Even so, Pazaski noted that this capstone project presents itself as more of a milestone than a pinnacle in the young seniors’ careers.
“There’s a danger in wanting to make this the end-all-be-all of your time at Westmont,” said Pazaski. “We want great things for this show, we just hope our legacy is less that we are obsessed with making a perfect show and more of a good example of what hard work, good teamwork and passionate dedication can produce. It is proving to myself that I have the capacity and artistic vision to do things like this.”
Wong said the experience is more of a practical application of all he has learned from mentors, like Jonathan Hicks, who have pushed him to be thorough and thoughtful about every scenic detail that goes into creating the imaginative worlds that audiences enter into.
Pazaski played the titular Nina, opposite of eight total actors and actresses all portraying the failed writer and lover Konstantin Treplev, which more acutely highlights Nina’s complicated character arc throughout the piece.
Pazaski declared that this ever-evolving dynamic between the actors and each subsequent scene was the single most challenging aspect of the production. “Getting on the same level emotionally, romantically and mentally is hard when you are playing off of eight different energies in 42 different scenes,” she said.
Even with the particular challenges, the fourth-years all agree that the rewards prove worthy.
Wong particularly enjoyed the artistic freedom that comes with being lead scenic designer: “Being in charge of set and lighting design allows you to play with all the elements and not compromise.”