So Long, Farewell

By Ashley Dillard

Hello internet land! I am writing to you today with my last blog post (cue Semisonic’s ‘Closing Time’ as I drown my sorrows in a bowl of dairy free ice cream) because as of May 5th, I will officially be finished my MFA! Let’s face it– change is tough. Huge life changes are especially tough. But these big life changes, while scary, can also be exciting because it opens up your entire world to new possibilities! With graduation a mere week away, I wanted to chat with some of our 2017 Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance graduates and see how they were feeling about entering the real world.

Kevin Nelson’s professional headshot.

3rd year Scenic Design MFA Kevin Nelson has been hard at work trying to secure employment for post-grad school life. “When I think about graduation, I feel that it has come upon us far too quickly. This year seemed to fly by. I feel that I have missed opportunities to push myself this semester especially because my focus has been on finding work for post-graduation. However, I am ready to go out and do what I love doing away from an academic institution and the “safety net” that has been so wonderful these past three years.”



Josiah loves to stage manage!

Senior Josiah Brown echoes that sentiment of time flying by, “I’m feeling antsy. It’s like this big event that I’ve been planning and working towards for four years now and now that it is finally here, I’m not sure what to do about it. However, I do feel prepared and ready to tackle the day. I’ve met so many different people and been through so many different experiences that would have normally been out of my comfort zone before college. Between all of the bonfires at Lake Monroe, easy going summer days during IU Summer Theatre, countless unforgettable productions, late nights on campus, radio shows at WIUX, and so much more its hard to pick out just one as my favorite moment at IU. ”

Bailey during rehearsals for Antigone.

Senior Contemporary Dance major Bailey Prager finds the unknown aspect of the future part of the thrill, “I’ve just been focused on what’s next–where and how can I find work to keep me in the business. It’s really exciting! You never know where you’ll be in a few months!”




Courtney’s professional headshot.

Some of our graduates have made 1, 5, and 10 year plans to help them figure out what the right next step is for them. Senior Courtney Relyea-Spivak has thought out her options, “Paulina Makowska (Movement and Silks Choreographer for The Tempest, in which Courtney played one of the three Ariels) has offered me a job at a Pilates studio that she is opening in town. She will be helping me get the rest of my certifications so that I can be a fully trained Pilates instructor. She’s very flexible and will schedule my clients around whatever rehearsal schedule I have going on because she understands that it’s a day job and not my primary job. I don’t think I’d be able to find that flexibility any where else. I figured ‘better Bloomington than New York’ because it’s either go home and live with my parents for free (Courtney is originally from New Jersey) and then try to break into a bigger pond where I’m a much smaller fish or stay in Bloomington where I’ve spent four years creating a name for myself and there’s still ample opportunity.”

Matt’s professional headshot.

Like Courtney, 3rd year MFA actor Matthew Murry, already has solid plans for his post-graduation life. He has accepted an adjunct teaching position at University of North Dakota where he will be teaching acting. “Graduation is bitter sweet. I’m going to really miss my friends. We’ve worked really hard towards this culmination– to release ourselves back into the world is scary but exciting. Moving forward feels good, knowing that I have a job at the same university as my wife and being able to both direct and teach–the future looks bright. ”

Adam in dress rehearsal for Macbeth.



Senior Adam Decker is less sure about his plan, but knows the general direction he wants to go. “Graduation is exciting and scary, honestly. Any time you are going through a huge change in your life it’s going to be scary. Not only am I leaving college, but having been in school for my entire life, now I’m going into the real world and figuring out how to manage my time without a hard school schedule. It’s a big step, but I feel ready! I kind of have a plan. I will ideally be in Chicago. Over the summer I will be searching for a job. It’s close to home and I have a great support base there. Plus it offers a lot of opportunity for things like theatre and media without having to jump into a giant city like LA or New York. Ideally that is where I’ll end up–let’s hope it all works out!”

Lani and her colorful headshot.

3rd year Costume Technology MFA Lani Tortoriello can’t wait to put her education to good use! “I am really excited about graduation. I am less excited about not having a full-time job yet, but I am still excited. I think anyone who was working before they came to grad school may be more excited about entering the workforce than someone who is coming straight out of undergrad. I am excited to have things like time in the evening, real paychecks, and being able to go back out with a new, well improved set of skills. Right now I’m in the final round of interviews for a position at Florida State University in their costume shop.  It would be exciting if I get this job and I hope I do!”

As for me, I will be sticking around Bloomington for the next year, *hopefully* working in the area (I will be acting in IUST’s repertory productions this summer) and getting married here in October! I love this town so much. I met my soon to be husband here, I learned more than I could’ve ever imagined, I made the best friends in the entire world, and I got to meet all of you amazing IU theatre community members.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for everything IU!

Ashley Dillard is a 3rd year MFA actor at Indiana University. She has been seen most recently as Kate in Dancing at Lughnasa at IU, Katherine in Home at the BPP, Marianne in Sense and Sensibility and Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream both for IU Summer Theater. Though she calls beautiful Bloomington home now, she originally hails from Highland, IN.





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H-T Review: ‘The Drowsy Chaperone’ delivers a lively combination

By Matthew Waterman | H-T Reviewer

Janet (Claire Logan) and company lay it down in the opening number of The Drowsy Chaperone.

It’s probably a good thing that today’s musicals have (mostly) progressed beyond the stock characters and crude stereotypes that dominated Broadway in the 1920s. But who doesn’t occasionally lament that modern Broadway composers don’t churn out catchy hits the way George Gershwin, Irving Berlin and Richard Rodgers did in their era?

The musicals of the Jazz Age still have their allure for many theatergoers, one of them being the main character of this season’s final mainstage production for the Indiana University Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance. We never discover his name; he’s simply billed as “Man in Chair.”

The production, directed by Kenneth L. Roberson, is called “The Drowsy Chaperone.” It’s a show-within-a-show; specifically, a glitzy, old-fashioned musical within a one-man play.

It works like this: Man in Chair, at home in his lonely apartment, gives the audience a guided tour through one of his most cherished records: the cast recording of a fictional classic musical called “The Drowsy Chaperone.” Although the visual aspects are all in Man in Chair’s head, a cast of several dozen actors emerges and brings the musical to life.

The show-within-the-show is a perfect blend of an homage to 1920s Broadway and a satire of it. All the familiar stock characters are there: a greedy producer, a ditzy showgirl, a “Latin” (yet European) lover, an English butler and (this one might be unique) a pair of New York gangsters disguised as pastry chefs.

At the center of it all is the wedding of Robert Martin and Janet Van De Graaff. Janet is Broadway starlet planning to give up her stage career for married life. Feldzieg is a moneygrubbing producer determined to stop the wedding so he can continue to profit off of Janet’s talent. The wedding is also jeopardized by Robert’s actions, taken with the ill advice of his best man, George.

Man in Chair peppers the show with snarky quips and short monologues, sometimes offering a bit of insight into his own life. He’s a reclusive, perhaps agoraphobic man who takes pleasure in little besides his records. Since the characters of the show-within-the-show are so vapid, it helps that Man in Chair has something of a backstory to his character, albeit a slightly underwritten one.

George Pinney plays Man in Chair. He’s a recently retired professor of musical theater at IU, but this is his first time acting, rather than directing or choreographing, in decades. There are moments when Pinney searches for a line or flubs a joke, but he certainly captures the essence of the role.

The actors of the show-within-the-show embrace the overstated corniness of their roles. Julia Thorn is Kitty, the extraordinarily stupid chorus girl vying to replace Janet as Feldzieg’s starlet. Courtney Reid Harris plays a senile and ultra-posh Mrs. Tottendale. Miles Tillman makes for an amusing Aldolpho, the dim-witted foreign womanizer. (The character is a stereotype meant to poke fun at the racism of the era.)

The leading couple, Robert and Janet, is portrayed by Matthew Weidenbener and Claire Logan. Logan’s rendition of “Show Off” is a highlight, as is her Act II opener, “Bride’s Lament.” Weidenbener shines along with Colin LeMoine in a tap-dancing duo, “Cold Feets.”

The ensemble singing, padded by 10 orchestra pit singers, really packs a punch. The dancing, choreographed by Liza Gennaro, is similarly impressive.

Scenic designer Ryan P. Miller rose to the challenge of creating a set that doubles as an old man’s apartment and a stage for a flashy Broadway musical. Chen Chen’s costumes and Bridget Williams’ lighting also help transport the audience from a dingy modern apartment to the Roaring ’20s.

To appreciate “The Drowsy Chaperone,” one should probably have a taste for cheesy musicals, but also a willingness to make fun of them. The show-within-the-show is no work of literary genius, and the one-man play framing it would be a bit depressing in isolation, but all put together, “The Drowsy Chaperone” is a funny and entertaining outing.

If You Go

WHO: IU Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance.

WHAT: “The Drowsy Chaperone” by Bob Martin, Don McKellar, Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday.

WHERE: Ruth N. Halls Theatre in the Norvelle Center, 275 N. Jordan Ave., Bloomington.

TICKETS: $15-$25. Call 812-855-1103 or visit

Reprinted with permission from The Herald Times. For more local arts news, visit

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Cut it out, drape it, and reverse it. An insider’s view into The Drowsy Chaperone’s costumes!!

By Ashley Dillard

A costume shop selfie with Christina HadleyDike and Cory John

Hello IU Theatre community! It’s a very busy time over here in the Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance. It’s warm and sunny, the birds are chirping and we are halfway through the run of The Drowsy Chaperone. Actors and directors tend to get a lot of attention when it comes to show recognition, but there are so many people behind the scenes who help make our beautiful shows possible. Today I want to introduce you to two people who bring our costumes to life!

Cory John is a third year costume technology graduate student and Christina HadleyDike is a second year costume technology graduate student. Both were cutter/drapers for The Drowsy Chaperone. So what is a cutter/draper? I wasn’t exactly clear either! “A cutter/draper takes a two-dimensional drawing that the costume designer give us and makes it a three-dimensional garment by draping muslin fabric onto a form that is roughly the size of our actor. Then we put it onto paper, cut it out of muslin and do a first fitting (called a mock-up fitting) with the actor to make sure it fits well and has the design lines that the designer is looking for. It’s a practice run before getting into the final fabric,” Christina told me.

It sounds like a lot of work went into building costumes for The Drowsy Chaperone (I mean have you seen them?!), but thankfully there is great sense of teamwork in the costume shop. “Typically a cutter/draper gets a first hand, who is basically their assistant, and then stitchers underneath them as well. In our shop it kind of depends on the work load and who is available. For this show I tag-teamed with Aaron Wardwell (a third year costume design graduate student) to build Caroline Huerta’s (The Drowsy Chaperone herself!) wedding dress. I did the draping and the fitting and then once I cut the design out of fashion fabric, I handed it off to Aaron. He build part of it and I then I came back in attached all of the ruffles on the dress.” Cory said.

The Chaperone, played by Caroline Huerta, in her hand made wedding dress built by Cory John.

Building these costumes was definitely a labor of love for these two. Cory hemmed over 500 feet of fabric and cut out 119 circles of fabric to make up the ruffles on the The Chaperone’s dress. “It was fun and challenging for me. The particular design I was working on, The Chaperone’s wedding dress, was extremely form fitting. When you have something extremely form fitting you want the fabric to be stretchy and the fabric that was chosen was actually wedding satin, which has no stretch. So it was a bit of a challenge to create a dress that would have the look that the designer wanted but also allowed movement. It’s a musical, people have to be able to move! It was a fun, unique challenge,” Cory explained.

Christina was able to show off new tailoring skills with her work. “The first show I did here was Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. I had to do a whole bunch of tailoring on that show and I had only ever learned ‘fake tailoring’ up to that point. I had to rely a lot on my first hand, who was actually Cory, to make sure I was putting in the canvases right. This past fall I took a tailoring class where I learned a lot. So with this show, I felt pretty confident just diving in.” Cory agreed, “The knowledge gained over my three years really made a huge difference.”

Mrs. Tottendale, played by Courtney Reid Harris, in her beautiful crinoline dress made by Christina HadleyDike.

Despite the long work hours and miles of fabric, both Cory and Christina had a great time building this show. “I enjoyed the experience. I got to build a crinoline dress, which I wanted to put in my portfolio and another very full dress. I had a lot of fun,” said Christina.

Their favorite costume pieces in the show? That was a no-brainer for Christina, “Tottendale’s first dress–the crinoline—for sure!” Cory couldn’t decide, “The Chaperone’s wedding dress and the gangsters. I liked them both!”

Check out Cory and Christina’s handiwork in The Drowsy Chaperone running now until April 22nd at the Ruth N. Hall’s theatre.

Ashley Dillard is a 3rd year MFA actor at Indiana University. She has been seen most recently as Kate in Dancing at Lughnasa at IU, Katherine in Home at the BPP, Marianne in Sense and Sensibility and Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream both for IU Summer Theater. Though she calls beautiful Bloomington home now, she originally hails from Highland, IN.

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H-T Preview: “Theater stages busy this week at Indiana University”

By Joel Pierson


Musical Theatre Professor George Pinney as “Man in Chair”

It’s all going on at IU this week. They have two new shows to choose from, one homespun, the other just visiting.

For the local talent, we turn to the Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance for a production of the Broadway show “The Drowsy Chaperone.” Twenty-nine musical theater majors and two ballet majors are part of the cast, for this comedic tribute to the musicals of the 1920s.

“The Drowsy Chaperone” is the story of a fictitious musical called “The Drowsy Chaperone.” We meet its biggest fan, identified as “Man in Chair.” As he listens to his old vinyl record of the faux musical’s original cast recording, his apartment is transformed into a fabulous Broadway showpiece of the Jazz Age. While each scene is performed, Man in Chair offers the audience commentary.

Making it more magical is that Man in Chair will be none other than retiring professor George Pinney, who is making this the last IU performance of his illustrious career. You’re familiar with the phrase “worth the price of admission right there”? Boom. And how many times has he taken a role on the IU stage, rather than behind the scenes? This is the first. I repeat: boom. Of the experience, Pinney says, “The last time I acted on stage in a role with lines was in 1979! (I’m) having the time of my life with such a talented cast and creative team.”

Choreographing the show is Professor Liza Gennaro, who will be taking Pinney’s position as head of the BFA program next year. Whether you’re a fan of musical theater or not, this show promises to be very special, and one not to be missed for friends and fans of that fine gentleman, Professor George Pinney.

‘The Drowsy Chaperone’

WHO: Indiana University Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance

WHAT: “The Drowsy Chaperone” by Bob Martin, Dan McKellar, Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. April 14, 15, 18-22; 2 p.m. April 22

WHERE: Ruth N. Halls Theatre, 275 N. Jordan Ave., Bloomington

TICKETS: $15-$25. Call 812-855-1103 or visit

Contact Joel by sending an email to with “Pierson” in the subject line.

Reprinted with permission from The Herald Times. For more arts news, visit
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Calling all planes!

By Rinjisha Roy


From left: Mike Nappi, Onur Alakavuklar, Aaron Chandler, and Benjamin Smith. Scenic design by David Wade in Bloomington Playwrights’ Project’s CALLING ALL KATES

On a stormy Thursday night, an aeroplane was seen coming in for a landing in Bloomington. Wait a minute – the airport’s over on the west side! So where was it going? Well, here’s what I can tell you – if you visit Bloomington Playwrights Project between now and April 15th, you can see for yourself!

BPP’s current production, Calling All Kates, is a delightful musical set ON an aeroplane, featuring the pilot and his crew as musicians! The plane is where two strangers, Marc and Kate, meet and set out together on a world tour. Through scary encounters in caves, and exciting adventures in foreign lands like Paris and Tokyo, the two navigate between worlds to ultimately find strength and comfort in each other, making their relationship a lasting one.

Having watched the play myself, I was impressed not just by the story, but also the way it was delivered to audiences. From musicians who play a variety of roles to adding special effects in recreating starry night skies in faraway lands, the musical promises fun and lively entertainment to anyone seeking respite after a long, hectic week.

And, of course, if you still haven’t gotten your fill of flight, head over to IU Theatre’s upcoming production The Drowsy Chaperone, where this musical-within-a-musical also features a plane that “lands” on stage!

Since these aeronautical wonders are only in town for a short while, make sure you find them at Bloomington Playwrights Project’s Calling All Kates, with shows at 7.30pm April 6th through 8th,  and April 13th through 15th. And IU Theatre’s The Drowsy Chaperone, coming to the Ruth N. Halls Theatre April 14th-22nd.

Make sure you find a spot before the planes take off forever!

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Where Are They Now?

We are so proud of our alumni from the Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance. Our graduates are scattered all over the world enriching the lives of the communities around them. Featured are just a sampling of our talented, hard working graduates representing acting, playwrighting, musical theatre, directing and scenic design!


Josh Krause will be working with Milwaukee Chamber Theater playing as Pip in their upcoming production of Great Expectations. Recently he performed in Children’s Theatre of Madison’s production of A Christmas Carol (Fred) this past December. Other regional credits include Jack of Hearts (Jack) for Milwaukee Entertainment Group; Julius Caesar (Octavius and Caius Legarius) for Optimist Theater; Visiting Mr. Green (Ross) and Jeeves at Sea (Crumpet) for Artists’ Ensemble Theatre; Goodnight Moon for Children’s Theater of Madison. In addition to acting, he is a teaching artist for the Milwaukee Repertory Theater where he teaches Adult Acting and Sunset Playhouse where he teaches Creative Drama. Josh lives in Milwaukee, WI with his wife, Rachel and their two cats, Butters and Tweak.



Nathan is currently writing a new play for Arena Stage’s power plays initiative. His play The Wind and the Breeze will have its world premiere at Cygnet Theatre in May 2018. Two of his plays Dontrell Who Kissed the Sea and Nat Turner In Jerusalem are being published by Samuel French this year. Nathan lives and works in New York City.



Emily Kelly is currently in rehearsals for Thoroughly Modern Millie at Goodspeed Opera House where she is in the ensemble. She is excited to share the stage with fellow IU grad Evan Mayer who is also in the cast as the male swing! Emily is based out of New York City.







Emily has been very busy since graduating in 2015. She is currently the standby for Elphaba on the national tour of Wicked. Emily is based out of New York City.






Since leaving IU Rob Heller has continued to work as the Resident Director for Musical Theater at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute in NYC. Recently he directed The Wild Party by Andrew Lippa and most recently Urinetown by Hollman and Kotis. For The Wild Party he was joined by IU alum Sarah Wells who served as Assistant Director and for Urinetown he was joined by IU alum Sam Barkley who served as Assistant Director, Fight Choreographer and Stage Manager. Rob also directed productions of two gender bending all female plays at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in NYC: Vrooommm! by Janet Allard and Men on Boats by Jaclyn Backhaus. He has continued his work with the CDP (Collaborative Development Production) workshop series at NYU’s Graduate Musical Theater Writing Program and this year two of the Jonathan Larson Award winners are alums of this workshop series. For the first time this year, CDP is a curricular feature of the New Studio on Broadway’s musical theater training and they are working to create a partnership between graduate writers and undergraduate performers. Rob is also teaching and directing at Montgomery County Community College outside of Philadelphia where they offer theater students affordable, collaborative and challenging theater and life training. Last semester they put up an almost completely student created production of the play Say Goodnight Gracie by Ralph Pape and currently they are producing a short play festival with four student directed pieces and two short new plays which Rob is directing. He chose to direct short plays by IU alums:  Space by IU alum Kelly Lusk and Fledgling by IU alum Nathan Davis. He also consulted with IU alum Lee Cromwell who is the Associate Producers of the Source Festival and the DC Fringe Festival for guidance in creating their own festival. Also, he is working diligently to bring the Wet Ink New Play Festival back to Bloomington this summer with brand new readings, workshops and productions by artists who have been part of the Bloomington Theatre Community.



Ian Martin is living and working in Chicago. He is the Artistic Producing Apprentice at Goodman Theatre, which is a yearlong program where he gets to work within the Artistic Staff on various aspects of artistic planning and producing, including casting and artistic personnel selection, budgeting and fiscal planning and special event planning. In February, he and a colleague programmed this year’s Black History Month program series. More info on that at



Graham Sheldon won a regional Emmy award for his long-form documentary Crossing Borders, which he wrote and produced. Graham was previously nominated for a regional Emmy in 2012 for the documentary Echoes from Chernobyl shot on location in Chernobyl, Ukraine. Currently he just signed on to shoot, as a producer and director of photography, a film for PBS on genetic mutations. Filming takes place throughout April and May all over North America. He is also developing a comedic scripted series as a producer, in which Minnie Driver makes a cameo in the pilot sizzle episode. During the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) convention in April, Graham will be appearing on a panel sponsored by Teradek. He also continues to write about all things film related for an online publication called



Arian recently closed The Humans at Second Stage Theatre in New York City. In 2011, Arian was nominated for a Tony award for his portrayal of Musa in Rajiv Joseph’s Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, opposite Robin Williams. As a film/TV actor, Mr. Moayed just finished shooting Barry Levinson’s newest film Rock the Kasbah as a lead opposite Bill Murray, Bruce Willis and Kate Hudson. Last year, he starred in Alfonso Cuaron/JJ Abrams’ TV Series, Believe, for NBC. This fall, he will be co-starring in Jon Stewart’s directorial debut Rosewater. As an Artistic Director of Waterwell, which he co-founded in 2002, he has helped devise over a dozen original productions including GOODBAR (Public Theater), The|King|Operetta, Marco Millions and The Persians. He is a proud recipient of the Theater World Award, a Drama League and Drama Desk nomination. He currently teaches in and administers the Waterwell Drama Program, which partners with the Professional Performing Arts School, one of the leading high school drama programs in the country. As a filmmaker, Mr. Moayed is currently creating three short films and a full-length feature. His first film, “Overdue”, has screened at some of the best film festivals in America including Palm Springs Film Festival, CineQuest Film Festival, Athens International Film Festival and now, the Noor Film Festival. His second short film, “Day Ten”, stars Omar Metwally and premiered at the 2014 TriBeCa Film Festival.


Since graduation, Kristen has been working for XL Scenic based out of Chicago as an assistant for Kevin Depinet and Todd Rosenthal. They have worked on numerous theatrical designs both locally and nationally, many with the potential of a Broadway debut. She was also part of a major design for a museum exhibit that will showcase in Germany. In her spare time, she freelances her own scenic designs for theatres across the country. Her recent work includes 3 productions for a Chicago performing arts school, Hound of the Baskervilles and The Christians for Gulfshore Playhouse in Naples, FL and The Toxic Avenger for Farmers Alley Theatre in Kalamazoo, MI. Next up, she will design Almost Heaven: The Songs of John Denver for Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre in Colorado and Peter and the Starcatcher for Farmers Alley Theatre.

Stay tuned for the next installment of the occasional Where Are They Now series!

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Creating New Worlds — The Playwrights’ Experience

By Ashley Dillard

Hey internet land! I am back today to give you some insider information from our MFA playwrights. Here at IU theatre we love new work! As an actor, I love getting a script that has never been produced before. Not only do you get to create a character that has never been explored before, but you also get to work one on one with the playwrights. As they see the play on its feet for the first time, they begin to make changes and really shape the play and characters. It feels alive! I sat down to talk to our two MFA playwrights, 3rd year MFA Bruce Walsh and 1st year MFA Aaron Ricciardi to see what it is like creating new work for the At First Sight series. Bruce’s play, Prospect Hill, was this year’s AT FIRST SIGHT mainstage production in the Wells-Metz Theatre, and Aaron had a reading of his new play Nice Nails on April 1st as part of the just-launched festival of new works.

Playwright Aaron Ricciardi

Each playwright found inspiration from their physical surroundings, but in totally different parts of the country. Aaron explained, “There are so many nail salons in New York City. Actually in some parts of New York there are more nail salons than Starbucks. There was this nail salon near me that I would walk by all the time to get to the train, but I’d never go in there because it was kind of disgusting. Then one day I was walking by and there was a sign in the window that said “Bunny is back” with this Asian women, maybe in her 40s, just looking out the window really forlorn. And writer brain just starting going: Who is Bunny? Is that Bunny? Where did she go? Why is she back? Why are they putting that sign in the window? Who cares that she’s back?”

That was a few years ago and the idea often popped back into Aaron’s head. That combined with his interest in setting a play in an unexpected place and a New York Times article exposing labor abuses in the New York City area’s nail salons all came together as Aaron started his first semester in the MFA playwriting program here at IU. “Mostly I feel that the nail salon situation is such a hotbed for political stuff and that is what I’m really attracted to. My writing is about digging into political issues through how they affect actual human beings.” And thus Nice Nails was born.

Playwright Bruce Walsh

Bruce found his inspiration from a few different places, “I was in a Brethren in Christ church in Philadelphia. They are affiliated with the Mennonite church, sort of Menno-lights, you could say. The church was very left-of-center. There were young Mennonites from rural parts of Pennsylvania that were looking for something more progressive, but they could also please their parents by staying loosely in the fold. And there were A LOT of young people from deeply conservative backgrounds that were struggling to parse out what they wanted to keep from their traditions, and what they wanted to change. It seemed like everyone felt betwixt and between. I did, too, my whole life, for many reasons. Eventually, the church’s reluctance to address their conservative position on LGBT matters caused a painful split for me. It was devastating. So I knew I had a play in me that was going to emanate from this. But, because I’ve been here for the last three years, the theme came out in a distinctly Bloomingtonian way.”

Aaron is very upfront about how nervous he was when he began writing the play for the At First Sight Series. “I hadn’t started anything in a long time. I had just been working on old stuff for awhile. And a lot of the characters weren’t people I know or from a culture I know personally. Essentially my grandmother came into my head. So I just started writing an old Jewish woman with dyed blonde hair, getting her nails done, and just talking and talking and talking. And then the other characters started coming into my mind.” In a short amount of time, Aaron wrote an entire draft in the fall of 2016 and then took a break from it. Now he’s come back to it and started the detail work. “It’s a real mess. I’m moving stuff around in the timeline and just trying to make sense of it all. This is the fun. Generating ideas is the hardest part for me.”

Bruce also found this process to be difficult. “In many ways, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Or do you just feel that way when you’re so close to it? I think at some point we forget, and we redevelop the necessary foolishness to try again. Isn’t that why people continue to have children? Speaking of children, my last play for IU — Berserker — closed on April 2nd, 2016. My son was born on May 13, 2016. So this play didn’t get started until June. I worked on it every day. The first reading was in September. There is a chapter in Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird called, ‘Shitty First Drafts’. She encourages the writer to develop the courage to just get it down on paper — warts and all — so the real work can begin. I read this chapter about once a day. There was a 10-hr workshop of the play in December. I sort of tore the play up in that period. I had to take a few steps back from the initial draft in order to find the play’s heartbeat — what makes the thing tick? What keeps the audience leaning in?”

Bruce continues, “There were at least three different endings in this period. Sometimes I didn’t know if it was ever going to take a step forward. I was in despair often during this process. Then I wrote another draft before rehearsals. I scrapped one of the characters. I completely changed the second half of the play. I felt I was clawing my way to get my arms around the play. We went into rehearsals with this version.  I felt the play was quite rickety, unstable, but I felt the arch was basically there. I finally had a draft I could work with. I continued to rewrite during the first two weeks of rehearsals. I find any scene I write needs at least three rewrites to find its shape. I felt the play finding its shape here. This was exhilarating. Then — before you know it — the script is frozen. In a Equity production, with previews, a playwright is able to alter a play during a series of first performances with an audience. But that is not fair to the actors in a university situation. I’ve always felt it is better to give the actors time to work with the imperfect, than continually undercutting them by ‘perfecting.'”

Each script provided it’s own unique challenges along the way. “The casting of this show is really hard,” Aaron explained, “there are four Korean characters, one black character and a transgendered guy. And honestly, what has been pretty amazing, is that we’ve found every character but one.” Aaron also serves as the Assistant House Manager for the 2016-2017 season productions and has kept his eye open when meeting students and patrons. “I come across a lot of students who usher. I met a girl who is a freshman, she seemed really excited, she’s Asian, she told me she’s in acting class and so I asked her to do the reading.”

Bruce came up against challenges as well, some of it centered around home life versus work life. “The 10 hour workshop in December was one of the hardest moments of this experience. I rewrote the play completely during that process and I wasn’t even sure it was getting better. Plus, my wife and I were sleep training a seven-month-old right at that moment. It wasn’t pretty. But I think I’m forever changed for the better because of it. I know now — in my bones — that sometimes a play has to take a step back, to ultimately find itself. I had courage, and I feel now, watching the audience interact with the piece, that the play was served in the end.”

Despite the long hours, the countless rewrites and difficult moments, it’s all worth it when they see their words come to life. Bruce said something that really stuck with me that I will leave you with, “Having your play done is a surreal, magical, sacramental experience. Every single day of it. It’s easy to forget. You get too deep into creating the product, wanting it to be better, scribbling notes to the director. I have a little trick: Sometimes I adjust my gaze up toward the lights. When I don’t look at the stage directly, I can connect with the mystical experience of having your play before you. I suddenly go back to the place of the play being in me. What’s in me is also outside of me.”


Ashley Dillard is a 3rd year MFA actor at Indiana University. She has been seen most recently as Kate in Dancing at Lughnasa at IU, Katherine in Home at the BPP, Marianne in Sense and Sensibility and Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream both for IU Summer Theater. Though she calls beautiful Bloomington home now, she originally hails from Highland, IN.

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