Horace Mann Theater Company (HMTC) takes the stage with One Act Plays

Isabella Ciriello and Ellen Wang

“Welcome to my world, darling,” Yasmeen Masoud (10) said from the Black Box theater. She played Mom in “Till Death Does Its Part,” one of the One Act Plays performed by the Horace Mann Theater Company (HMTC) last week. The other plays were “Canceled,” “Cosmic Cleanup Crew,” and “Think Tank.”

One of the most enjoyable parts of performing live is the immediate feedback from the audience, which was emotional and rewarding for the actors after not having a live audience in two years, Bailey Hecht (11) said. “My favorite part was when jokes hit. I loved when I couldn’t say my next line because the audience was too busy laughing.”

As an audience member, Camila Florencio (10) attended the shows because her friends were in it and she wanted to support them, she said. “I remember thinking ‘it’s crazy how talented people are.’ These plays are something you would expect grown-ups to write, so I felt some sort of Horace Mann pride [knowing that they were student written and directed].”

For both the audience and the cast members, some scenes were very moving. “‘Till Death Does Its Part’ and ‘Cosmic Cleanup Crew’ evoked real emotions and I thought that was very powerful,” Florencio said.

“The scenes with [just me and Yasmeen] were very powerful emotionally,” Dalia Pustilnik (12), who played Ava in “Till Death Does Its Part,” said.

As the Student Assistant Director of “Think Tank” and an upperclassman, Matthew Peeler (12) reassured the cast before they went onstage. “If you mess up, no one’s gonna know,” he said. “As long as the scene flows and hits the points that we need it to, just keep moving.”

Live theater is, by nature, unpredictable, so the actors had to adapt and think on the fly, Jah’si Eyre (10) said. During one of the performances, Eyre, who played Rio in “Canceled,” had to quickly change into sneakers after a scene but was having trouble getting them on, so instead of missing a cue, he went on barefoot, he said. He was nervous that the audience would notice, but he stayed in character and pretended it was all part of the plan, he said. “One of the things you have to really prepare for as an actor is the mess-ups that will happen,” Eyre said. “You have to make sure that even though you know a mistake has been made the audience doesn’t know that.”

In addition to the occasional mishap during the performances, the actors faced an unexpected challenge the week of the show when Malaya Gaboury (12) and Etta Singer (10) had to understudy a role in “Cosmic Cleanup Crew”and “Canceled” respectively because the original actor was not able to perform the roles. On the Monday before the show, they learned that they had to know their staging and lines for opening night on Thursday. “It was a lot to learn — new staging, new blocking, new lines — but it was really fun,” Singer, who understudied Chad in “Canceled,” said.

For Hecht, a mishap occurred in a performance of “Till Death Does Its Part” when she spilled a cup of tea, she said. “It wasn’t great, but it was really funny.”

Rehearsals for the four plays started in November, beginning with large group rehearsals so that the actors could learn about the plays’ plots and bond with their castmates, Gaboury said. After the initial rehearsals, the casts met Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays after school in the Black Box.

The actors started out by reading the script without guidance from their directors, Eyre said. The goal was to experiment with how it would naturally feel to perform the scene before diving into the technical aspects of it, he said.

There were four different plays with separate rehearsals for each play’s cast, Eyre said. “Normally, there is only one play so everyone is on the same page, but now there are so many different things happening at once, so it was so interesting for me to see it all come together.”

“We didn’t actually come together until tech week or the week before tech, and that was really fun because we got to watch everyone else’s shows that we had never seen before and had only read the script of,” Singer said.

By the end of the rehearsal process, the cast had grown close with one another despite not all being in the same plays. “Seeing the whole cast come together was nice,” Hecht said. “Since it’s four separate shows, we don’t always have the best bonding across the shows, but by the end you could see we came together as one group.”

“A lot of [directing and acting] is looking at what’s not on the page,” Student Assistant Director of “Till Death Does Its Part” Matthew Aponte (12) said. “There’s a connection to yourself whenever you’re playing a character, so you need to think about how you would feel versus how your character would feel.”

Being on a big stage in front of a large audience was a drastic change that the actors needed to prepare for. “Because there’s a bunch of people in one theater, we really had to enunciate our voices and speak louder,” Amaris Christian (9), who played Andrea Misthell in “Think Tank,” said.

However, acting in front of a live audience is a crucial part of theater and was a blessing during COVID Aponte said. “Hearing their responses to the drama going on on stage was really, really helpful and sort of brought back my love for theater.”

Unlike other musicals or plays that the HMTC performs, the One Acts are unique because they are put together mainly by students. “Time is always a challenge,” Aponte said. “If we had more time, there were definitely more things we could’ve done, more things we would’ve built for the set, or things we could’ve put into the shows.” However, the performance still topped his expectations and engaged the audience tremendously, he said. 

“The performance went beyond my expectations,” Peeler said. “We really hammered it down during the last few weeks of rehearsal, and it all went great.”

After the last show on Saturday, the seniors gave handed the underclassmen gifts related to each of their roles, such as a stuffed animal that resembled a fish for an ensemble member in “Think Tank,” and the juniors gave roses to the seniors as a gesture of appreciation and well-wishes, Gaboury said. 

As a senior, Pustilnik was grateful for the opportunity to form friendships with students of all grades as well as perform her peers’ work, she said. “There’s something very special about doing a show that’s written by students, directed by students, fully performed by students, and with students of all four grades,” Pustilnik said. “It’s amazing knowing that you’re putting on a unique, student-written show.”