Date of Submission
Academic Programs and Concentrations
Film and Electronic Arts; Theater
Project Advisor 1
Project Advisor 2
When I conceived of my joint senior project, I wanted to give video an integral role in a live performance. I set out to write an original script in which theater and film were equally essential to the storytelling process. Neither element could be more important than the other, and if one were to be missing, the piece would not feel whole. I did not want to make a theater production with projections, nor a film with a live element, but instead a piece where theater and film come together to tell a story.
The show begins with Esther meeting a girl named Natalie at an audition for their college’s production of Richard III. During the scene, Natalie takes Esther’s hand and holds it. Although Natalie is just acting, Esther sees her decision to make contact as a declaration of love, and Esther falls for her scene partner. Esther’s attraction towards Natalie turns into obsession; obsession becomes delusion and ultimately results in Natalie’s death. The show tracks Esther through these events, alternating between live performance and video. There are moments when the audience watches actors onstage, moments when the film plays alone, and times when the film and the performer interact with each other. The screen acts as a reflection of the main character’s internal life, her memories, fantasies, and fears, whereas the stage serves as objective reality. When the film and the play occur simultaneously, a dialogue emerges between these two mediums. For a large portion of the piece, Esther is alone onstage speaking and reacting to Natalie who, although she appears in the movie, is not physically present. The contrast between the world onscreen and the world onstage creates a sharp distinction between what Esther believes she sees and reality. This alludes to Esther’s skewed perspective and suggests that her point of view may not be the most reliable. She emerges as a protagonist whom we cannot entirely trust; however, we can say the same thing about her love interest, Natalie. They both experience the same event, the audition, but in completely different ways. Esther sees it as the beginning of a romance, while Natalie thinks of the audition as nothing more than two people doing a scene together. Esther commits reprehensible acts as a result of this confusion, but her actions stem from a place of misunderstanding and fear rather than malice. Natalie, on the other hand, is intentionally mean to Esther, but her cruelty does not warrant being killed. Esther and Natalie are both victims and villains at different points in the story, and the audience is free to choose, if they wish, with whom to align themselves.
I think of ESTHER as a successful experiment. I created a performance where theater and film are not separate parts to the production, but closely intertwined pieces of a narrative. If I were to show the film half to an audience, it would not impact them in the same way the whole show would. Not only would parts of the story be missing, but the concept of Esther dipping in and out of reality would not be as clear if she were not present onstage. The same would happen if I showed people only the live performance. There would be large gaps in the narrative and Esther’s internal life would be absent from the piece. I made what I intended to make, but with a price. ESTHER lived briefly in LUMA and now it is over. I have no way of showing it to others, aside from a recording of one of the performances that does not do it justice. The only way I could put on ESTHER again would be if I got my two actors together and we went on tour, or if I were to reshoot the movie and rehearse the play with two different performers, but I doubt that either of those scenarios are possible. A part of me regrets making something like this. I have very little to show for the year I spent working on the project, aside from bits and pieces of a production that can never be whole again. What I do have, however, is the knowledge that I made something that I am proud of, and the experience of trying to make something different.
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de Palma, Piper, "ESTHER" (2019). Senior Projects Spring 2019. 37.
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