Mount St. Joseph University

Lights, Camera, More Camera

Dateline: student newspaper

By: Sasha Feldmann

That’s my bad pun to introduce the Mount St. Joseph drama club’s next production, I Am a Camera, directed by Dr. Drew Shannon and starring Garret Liette, A.J. Keith, Aimée Ward, Tiffany Nascimento, Mike Mullin, Brendan Savage, Sara Croswell, and London Bishop. I list the whole cast because it’s small, and because every actor truly brings something individual and irreplaceable to the piece, literally and figuratively (Ward even brought in a bookshelf for a prop, though if I recall it’s nowhere to be found at the moment).

The play itself is based on the novel The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood, and was adopted into a play by John Van Druten in 1951. The story follows a young writer (based on Isherwood himself) in 1930s Berlin, Germany, just as the Nazi party is rising to power--though the play hardly touches on that fact outright. It is named so because of the opening line of Goodbye to Berlin, one of the stories in the novel, “I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive.” His role is that of an observer, simply a “camera” recording the events and people whom he encounters. Most know the play for its musical adaptation, Cabaret. At the end of the play, some of the students will be performing some songs from the musical.

Isherwood is played by Garret Liette and A.J. Keith. The female lead, Sally Bowles, is played by Aimée Ward. Sally is an English nightclub singer in Berlin with Isherwood. Ward, a senior and early childhood education major, has been involved in theater ever since about kindergarten or first grade, and has done about 20 plays since, with roles varying between ensembles and seven leads, both of which she finds rewarding. Here at the Mount, she’s also been a part of And Then There Were None and Six Degrees of Separation, and even directed the former.

I asked her for a little more on Sally Bowles. “She loves to have a good time,” she says, “But the premise of the play is maybe she’s not as happy as she thinks she is. I always feel like she’s putting on an act for people, except for Chris [Isherwood]. He really sees right through her right away, and becomes her confidante.”

In terms of getting into character, Ward feels you can find something in common with most any character. She and Sally both “love to put on a show for people.” Sally has a line in the show about shocking people by wearing green nail polish, and Ward even wore it as well. What she likes about playing Sally is that “it’s such an iconic role,” she says, “And it’s a role that I’ve never really played before, because there’s really two sides of her. Even though she seems very ditzy and very shallow on the surface, she’s really not. She has a lot of feelings and she goes through a lot during the show.” Suffice to say, she finds the role and the play quite interesting, and hopes we’ll all enjoy it (I’m sure I will).

I spoke with Shannon next about the play. He is an associate professor in the Liberal Arts department, faculty advisor for the drama club, and of course, directs this show. His role in the club has varied, between directing and co-directing with a student. In their production of Six Degrees of Separation, he was even a character and a student directed. He also chooses the plays the club performs.
“Isherwood was a very interesting guy,” he says, “He was the first, in many ways, openly gay male author to have a widespread appeal. I studied him and read a little about him in grad school.” Shannon also explained to me that they are “darkening up” the show a bit, with some sound elements. “I read the script and thought it wasn’t nearly dark and sinister enough with the Nazi presence,” he says. He describes the play as a valuable capsule of theatre and of history.

I was even lucky enough to attend a rehearsal. After a brief search for a space (given that there was a meeting taking place in the Recital Hall that day), they began. I made particular note of the very natural and realistic body language exhibited by the actors, the convincing accents (especially the German ones of Nascimento and Savage), and the brief time and ease with which they were able to get in and out of character. I can’t say much more, lest I spoil anything, but I will say the entire thing was truly a cohesive group effort, from finding the rehearsal space, to bringing props and costumes, to helping each other remember lines. It seemed like a very welcoming community, not to mention immensely talented.

The play will be performed Nov. 3 through 6, and 10 through 13 at 7 p.m. each day in the Recital Hall. Purchase tickets by contacting Betsy Jones. They cost is $7 for Mount students and $12 for non-students. So come, and bring your camera (your mental one; I’m pretty sure you’re not allowed to actually record it).