Lights, camera, Caesar

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Zachary Kurtz and Sofia Kim

Last Friday, the Horace Mann Theatre Company (HMTC) entertained the school with a staged reading of the political parody “How to Overthrow your Student Government (in 7 Easy Steps)” by playwright Ian McWethy. The show comments on the differences between authoritarianism and democracy but is set in a highschool, which lends it a relatable tone, Emily Sun (10) said.

“With Julius Caesar’s help, high school freshman Jen Belcher ditches democracy for autocracy so she can stage a coup for student body president,” Sun said. “McWethy wrote the play in 2018, but it’s themes of distrust in the media, rigged elections, and false scapegoats make it feel like it was written yesterday.” 

HMTC co-president Henry Owens (12) decided to bring the play to the school because he thought it would be enjoyable and timely to do some form of a production related to politics due to the presidential election. “Based on the title How to Overthrow Your Student Government (in Seven Easy Steps), I was immediately hooked,” he said. “I thought that this would be an interesting way of either framing things, or just giving people a new way of thinking about the election.”

The show had a single one hour rehearsal last Wednesday over Zoom. During the rehearsal, the cast did a full run-through without stopping to perfect everything, Evann Penn Brown (12) said. “It was really just so we kind of could feel how we could play off each other in the Zoom.” 

The show was a staged reading, which is usually more relaxed than a full production, theatre teacher Halia VanHentenryck said.

“Outside the one rehearsal, I read through the script a total of probably three times,” Bailey Hecht (10) said. “In the rehearsal, we did not work on specific scenes but rather just did a full on run through.”

Mekhala Mantravadi (11) said this staged reading was different from her usual experiences in theatre, where each play is extremely rehearsed and perfected before the performance. “This was just kind of get the script, read it, and see what happens,” she said. “And I think that’s another type of theatre that was fun too.”

Working on Zoom has changed the dynamic of theatre for the HMTC, as performing on stage is very different from performing on Zoom, VanHentenryck said. “You sort of just have to go big with your own character, and then trust that people are there and are understanding and are getting it and are loving it.”

There are some benefits to Zoom, Athena Spencer (10) said. For example, a performer can turn their cameras off and have the chance to watch the show through the lens of the audience. “When you’re doing a live show usually when you’re not on stage, you’re sort of far away from the stage so you can’t really see what’s going on.”

The HMTC has done a great job of adapting the productions to the pandemic, Mantravadi said. “Especially with the Shenanigan Shows and ‘Twas the Night Before Halloween, they’re making it work, which is really wonderful and really inspiring.”

The audience found the show to be a very positive experience that ran seamlessly, Louise Kim (10) said. “It gave us a moment to laugh about politics during the tumultuous election season.”

“Theatre is very cathartic,” Mantravadi said. “People see themselves and the world around them in theatre, and that’s what makes it so wonderful.” She said people reached out to her after the show saying that it “made their weekend” and that it put a smile on their faces during a distressing political situation. 

“It was just nice to get with a group of people who wanted to be silly and make the Horace Mann community laugh,” Mantravadi said. “On the surface level, [comedy is] very easy to laugh at, but the more you think about it, it’s revealing of the society you’re in and your own humanity.”