In May 2010, theater and anthropology major Meghan Rose Donnelly ’11 put out a call to her fellow Williams students: “Will you join me in creating a full-scale play from scratch? There is no script, no system of attack, no set format. It will take a full year to realize and will involve a great deal of artistic and personal flexibility.”
Five students responded, their numbers grew over the past academic year, and the result was Bersama, that’s part of it, which premiered at the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance on May 5, 2011.
A two-act play that served as Donnelly’s honors thesis, Bersama compares friendship at Williams with friendship in Bali, Indonesia, where Donnelly had spent a month and a half in the busy southern town of Bedulu. “I made friends there I didn’t want to leave” she recalls. “Back in Williamstown, I was struck anew by the powerful effect our friends can have on our lives.”
So what’s it like to make a play from scratch around that notion? “Because nothing was set in stone, the possibilities truly seemed endless,” recalls Donnelly. She and her fellow creators took a lot of risks, with almost none of the work they did in the first semester making into the final version of Bersama.
“In theater, it is very hard to know whether something works until you try it,” says Professor David Morris, Donnelly’s theater department mentor. “We need to be able to experiment—to ‘play’ in both senses of the word—and to risk failure at times, since failures are part of how we stretch and learn as artists.”
Donnelly agrees: “There’s an Indonesian saying, ‘suka-duka bersama-sama,’ which means ‘we all like to suffer together.’”
Morris created opportunities for the group to present work-in-progress performances throughout the year, always asking audiences for feedback. These encounters gave Donnelly and her ensemble a sense of what worked, what needed reworking, what might be missing, and what ought to be cut.
The final product was well received on opening night, and Donnelly sees the experience as her path forward. “It was important to me that I combine these two disciplines (theater and anthropology) for this show because it is exactly what I want to pursue for the rest of my life. My dream is to travel around the world studying people and places, then to convey my findings theatrically.”
The original company for Bersama, that’s part of it was: Emily Ciavarella ’13, Natalie Johnson ’13, Stephen Simalchik ’13, Annie Eddy ’13, and Karlan Eberhardt ’13. Performers were Jacqueline Berglass ’11, Chris Brauchli ’11, Tasha Chu ’11, Diego Flores ’11, Tomomi Kikuchi ’11, Ashley Meczywor ’13, and Catherine Tremble ’13. Design by Deborah Brothers, David Evans Morris ’93, and Julie Seitel ’94. Stage Management by Nathaniel Basch-Gould ’11 and Emily Loveridge ’14.