By EMILY SCOTT / Literature Editor
On the evening of October 14, 2016, the Florida State University School of Theater staged Theresa Rebeck’s Seminar at the Augusta Conradi Theater. Before attending the play, audience members knew they could expect to see a drama about four young fiction writers hiring a seminar teacher to instruct them on how to be better writers. The stage was appropriately set in Kate’s bright and sophisticated living room for the seminars and only changed setting in the final scenes to Leonard’s haphazard apartment. Everything about the setting seemed promising in meeting the audience’s expectations of the plot. However, the actors’ performances revealed that Seminar wasn’t just a play about writing, but an intimate look into four characters coming of age.
The entire play was enlightening and imbued with a tinge of sadness, a mood matching the theme of coming into one’s adulthood. Sound Designer Zach Cramer has designed almost all of the sounds in FSU’s productions since 2009 and played with the audience’s emotions in Seminar. When the stage went black between each scene, an audio of various stringed instruments played a melody that was both soothing and suspenseful. When the lights were out, the mood of the music had the audience wondering what new challenge a character would have to face next – and there always seemed to be a new challenge waiting in the wings.
The seminar instructor, Leonard (played by FSU Alumni R. Ward Duffy) did not just teach his students about writing, but influenced the direction of their professional and personal lives through his commanding dialogue. With lines such as, “If you have something on the page you should let people see it for Christ’s sake!”, Leonard forced his students to push themselves to new limits. The emotional dynamic between Martin (played by Cecil Jennings) and Leonard drove the play forward to its hallowing conclusion. When Martin made a pact with the devil in Leonard’s Mephistopheles and the stage lights faded to their final black, the audience rose in a standing ovation. Jennings and Duffy convinced the audience that being a writer was well worth the struggle and occasional moral ambiguity.
Rebeck’s powerful dialogue on its own could have carried the message that one must grow up and break barriers to be a writer, but the FSU Theater Program’s staging of Seminar was so successful largely because of the stage team’s finesse in selecting audio and visuals to complement the emotions in every one of the actors’ lines. By the play’s conclusion, it did not matter if Duffy had spent a riveting sixty minutes destroying the writings of Kate (Antonina Vargas), Izzy (Skye Kim) and Douglas (Daniel Deist) with his egocentric musings and brutal truths, because Duffy and Jennings had the audience clinging to the foreboding hope that the latter could someday be a successful writer.
If you didn’t have the chance to attend Seminar, don’t miss out on future 2016-2017 productions by the FSU School of Theater. Order your tickets today!