Spoden and Okas direct one-act plays

This past weekend, the Loras Players brought students and the Dubuque community to the heart of the Loras theatre industry: St. Joe’s Auditorium. After three weeks of more than ten hours’ worth of rehearsals plus offstage preparation, the Players performed a fifty-minute show comprised of two one-act plays: a drama titled “Mother By and By” and a comedy titled “A Haunting on Durango Street.” Both student-written and student-directed, “Mother By and By” was written by NYU Tisch School of the Arts senior Bubba Weiler, and “A Haunting on Durango Street” was written by fellow Loras senior Josh Kessenich.

Weiler’s drama, directed by senior Anne Spoden, took place in the 1940s, and stared juniors Emma Horst and Stephanie Benic, and first-years Claire Huguelet and Richie Rosean. It centers around a sixteen-year-old girl named Lily (Horst) who is reluctant to marry the man her mother (Benic) arranged for her. This hesitancy becomes heightened after her older sister Hattie (Huguelet) reveals that the relationship between herself and her husband Ken (Rosean) is abusive.

“I really enjoyed my experience directing my first play,” said Spoden. “I’m really pleased with the work.  My cast worked hard to memorize early and really get in the heads of their characters.”

Spoden and playwright Weiler, while attending colleges in very different states, have known each other for years.

“We’ve been friends since we were little kids,” Spoden reflected. “When I was in New York for the 2014 choir trip, I had the opportunity to meet up with him and chat a bit about our theatre experiences at our respective schools. I said, ‘Hey, I’m directing a show. Do you have any for me?’ and he said, ‘Yeah, I’ll send you what I have!’ The rest is history.”

“I was amazed by how well the script read,” said Horst. “He did a wonderful job composing this work. I’m blown away by the amount of talent that came from a college student.”

The resulting production was successful, an enjoyable experience for all involved.

“I’m very happy with the amount of Duhawks that came to support the players!” Exclaimed Horst. “It’s so nice to see familiar faces in the audience enjoying our work.”

The second half of the show took a more lighthearted route. Josh Kessenich’s “A Haunting on Durango Street,” directed by junior Mike Okas, starred sophomores Austin Cousins, Benjy Miller, Travis Exline, Libby Oberfoell, George St. John, and first-year Zach Atzen.

The comedy features two college roommates Jeremy (Cousins) and Paul (Miller) living in an abandoned house. They encounter three “ghosts” who are actually college students (Exline, Atzen, Oberfoell) dressed in white sheets aiming to frighten underclassmen. They end up hiring a quirky Ghostbuster-esque ghost exterminator named Exterminator Joe (St. John).

“Seeing all the hard work pay off during the performances was very satisfying,” said Okas. “Everyone gave their all and had a blast doing it, which was very gratifying for me.”

Like Spoden, this was his first time directing a play.

“It was very different being on the other side of the production,” said Okas.

Okas has had his fair share of acting on stage, starring in several previous Loras Players productions, including “The Adding Machine” (2012), “Lend Me a Tenor” (2013), and more recently, “R.U.R.,” (2014).

“Michael Okas did an amazing job putting it on,” said the playwright, Kessenich. “He did a lot of different things I never thought of doing when writing it, which made the production all the more hilarious and surprising.”

The idea to write the play came from an online picture he stumbled upon one day.

“[It was of] bed sheet ghosts with the black eyes like in a cartoon,” he remembered. “I thought to myself, ‘It’d be funny if they were playing volleyball or just goofing around.’ I wrote the one-act and took out the volleyball portion of it. ‘Durango Street’ just sounded like a cool place to have a haunting.”

“I think there is a lot of credit that needs to be given to the writers and directors,” said actor,  St. John. “Even for the best writers, the creative process can be a difficult one, so having such a well-written script was a great help to us as actors and directors. Any time you put time into a skill or craft, when you make it your own, you can only be pleased with the result.”

When asked about the most enjoyable aspect of participating in this production, he enthusiastically St. John noted: “It was the people. I got to work with great writers, directors, and actors. I can’t wait to see some of them in Duprov.”

It wasn’t just enjoyable for those involved in the production. It was just as enjoyable for the audience.

“I thought both of the one-acts were put together very nicely. I enjoyed watching them both.” said first-year Abby Cousins. “I also thought everyone did an amazing job with the acting and directing of both the pieces. I think having those two one-acts together was great because they both had something for everyone in them.”

It was a consensus that talent is prominent at Loras College, both on stage and off.

“It was awesome knowing that students had written both of these pieces,” Cousins continued. “It reminded me how much talent that we have here at Loras and at many other colleges. It’s refreshing to see those students share their talents with others.”

The Loras Players would like to invite you to their next event, Duprov — an improvised show of laughter and amusement. Join them April 16 and 17 at 7:00 p.m. in the Pub.

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