“Once Upon” astounds audience with humor

Ava Schmidt ’23 cries in agony as she hears a fellow horse has died. Schimdt was one of the horses in “This Ain’t My First Rodeo.” Photo by Michaela Edlin

The board of Pause, Lewis & Clark’s theater journal, held their semi-annual “Once Upon a Weekend” show Oct. 19 in the Black Box of Fir Acres Theatre.

Students had a week to submit an original script based on a theme, with this fall’s being “This Ain’t My First Rodeo,” and had 24 hours for the director and cast to rehearse. This fall’s production was hosted by Evan Howell ’20 and Pause Board President Robert Rodriguez ’20 and featured four of the eight submitted plays.

A performance by one of  LC’s a cappella groups, Kith & Kin, started off the night before the first play, “Camp.” Written by Mary Alice Perkins ’22 and directed by Naomi Schroeter ’23 the play focused on a summer camp conflict between two children. The first half of it was performed after Kith & Kin and the second half concluded the show. 

“Camp” introduced the the character George, played by Ezri Reyes ’22, chasing after a goose, which was a thread carried throughout the whole event. This goose gag was kept a secret. Even the actors of other plays were unaware of the role it would play throughout the event. 

Grave Wenzel ’23 was in “Couple Square Dancing Therapy” and was surprised when Reyes entered unannounced.

“A (favorite) moment was when Ezri interrupted our scene because he was looking for a goose and that was a continued gag from the previous scene,” Wenzel said. “I didn’t know that was happening, none of us knew that was happening, but we were all staying in character.”

The second play, “Couple Square Dance Therapy,” featured bickering couples trying to dance it out under the instruction of a whacky ’80s inspired trainer. The audience roared in applause and laughter after the scene’s closing lines: “So, have you ever been pegged before?” “What do you think this is? My first rodeo?” 

Next, the hosts gathered two audience participants for a lip sync, which received substantial applause. The two men who volunteered selected the song “Toxic” by Britney Spears, while the audience cheered and commented on the humorous, homoerotic nature of the performance.

According to House Manager Ellie Pearson ’20, this was a shining moment.

“The lip sync was particularly fun this year,” Pearson said. “In previous years it’s been hard to get audience participation to that level, and they just got up there and did a fantastic job.”

Following the lip sync, actors performed in “4 a.m. Blues,” written by Ella Spurbeck ’23 and directed by Fabi Arya Rodriguez ’23. The play showed a waitress who had worked a 24-hour shift dealing with the demands of unreasonable customers, spit takes and a haphazard chef. An LC jazz band, The Angry Wombats, followed the play with a two-song set.

The fourth play was a fan favorite. Playwright Emmanuel Skora ’23 and director Negasi Brown ’23 produced the self-titled “This Ain’t My First Rodeo,” a zany, “Animal Farm” reminiscent story of horses who overtake their farmer owners.

Skora said he wrote the play in three hours and for him, the theme “This Ain’t My First Rodeo” was an easy transition to horse revolution. He had one criticism of the adaptation.

“In the play, they incorporated a lot of neighs, but there was still not enough neighs,” Skora said. “In the script that I wrote, I put in a neigh in every line that a horse was saying.”

Quite a few lines from the Skora’s play thrilled the audience, like “I may not be a smart cowboy, but I know what love is,” and “I have a weapon, but since we go to a liberal arts school, it’s a pencil.”

While the horses in the stables planned to overthrow their human owners, a romantic subplot added further depth to the play. The farm owner and his wife were in a less than satisfactory marriage, but the wife aspired to be loved by everyone, including a secret lover who plotted to kill her husband. This and a comedically timed suicide made the horses’ job even simpler.

Pearson has been the house manager for two and a half years and values “Once Upon a Weekend” because of its lighthearted nature and audience participation.

“Part of the fun of ‘Once Upon’ is a lot of people who know it and engage with it, know to be expecting (unusual) things like that,” Pearson said. “They’re ready to laugh at everything.”

Though the production schedule for the play was extremely tight, Wenzel did not feel that it limited the quality of the plays. Elements were spontaneous and ad-libbed, but it was applied on a basis of somewhat memorized lines and rehearsed chemistry.

“It wasn’t … chaotic, you could tell it was very carefully planned and it didn’t seem thrown together at all, but it all happened so quickly,” Wenzel said. “I’ve never experienced anything like that in acting before.”

The next “Once Upon a Weekend” theme will be announced Feb. 2 and the show will be on Feb. 19 at 7 p.m. in Fir Acres Theatre’s Black Box.

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