The Emma Willard School Theatre Department took a deep dive into devised theatre for their winter production, The Earthling. The story follows a time-and-space-traveling “Earthling” who arrives on Mars to help a small remnant of inhabitants solve their need for water.
You won’t find a script and performance rights for The Earthling available for purchase on any dramatic publisher’s website. That’s because it’s the brainchild of Theatre Instructor Faith Lawson (Flawson). Flawson created a complete script for the show, yet the students’ desire to add a musical element led her to set aside the original work and offer up the framework of the show for students to devise their own version of The Earthling.
The students never saw the script Flawson wrote, but rather took the suggested scenes and created their own show. Co-Writers and Assistant Directors Yuri O. ’25 and Eleanora "Nora" B. ’25 wrote the script, cast members gave notes at the end of each rehearsal, and Chloe Y. ’25 (who also worked on the lighting crew) worked with Flawson to read and edit each revision. “There are of course a lot of similarities [with what I wrote], but it really is their script,” Flawson shares. As an added bonus, the rewrite included three musical numbers under the guidance of Music Instructor Barbara Musial and a dance finale choreographed by Maggie R. ’25.
Devised theatre, a process of creating a performance collaboratively, is something that has been a passion for Flawson since her days of working in improv. “That's actually how I got a lot of my stage experience, working with different theatre companies that devised works around social justice and world issues,” she explains. “Devised theatre is a very unique tool.”
Assistant Director Nora has also had previous experience with devised theatre, specifically through their work with GirlSummer. Although they have written other scripts, this is their first experience writing the script for a devised performance. “My favorite part was watching the growth of the actors,” Nora shares. They compare their experience as a stage actor with the process of directing others. “As an actor, I’m focusing on how I should portray the emotion I’m given and reacting to others. As a director, I’m looking at what emotion I believe the line needs and how I can express that to the actor in a way they can understand, as well as larger group reactions and how emotions of characters fit in with each other.”
Nora’s counterpart Yuri had also experienced devised theatre in her acting classes, but this was her first time writing a full script. “I enjoyed the freedom it gave me to use my creativity because I didn't have restrictions on where I wanted to take the plot,” she shares. She also found that she prefers directing to acting. “I like being able to display my vision and interpretation of characters on stage.” She reflects on what she learned about timing and body language, how waiting to say a line changes its meaning and impact. “Overall, working on this project was a great experience I feel lucky to have had,” Yuri concludes.
The outcome of the devised work was a unique piece of theatre, with subtle nods to a variety of “if you know, you know” pop culture references. From Bell’s costume that harkened back to Mork in the TV series Mork and Mindy, to the time-traveling red truck SIDRAT (our version of Dr. Who’s TARDIS) and the Heathers-inspired costumes and attitude of the governing elite colony Valis, audience members reaped the benefit of this production’s careful planning.
Juliette A. ’25 played Bell, The Earthling.
Valis, the colony responsible for governing, consisted of Lead (Kirsten R. ’25), Silver (Sophie L. ’25), Iron (Claire S. ’24), and Copper (Margaret L. ’26)
The Nilis—Tin (Ash L-S. ’25), Argon (Mira B. ’26), and Xenon (Kelsey D. ’25)—were a colony of “seers” who can predict the future of Mars, costumed in celestial-themed clothing reminiscent of the 70s.
The Melas were the workers of Mars, responsible for mining for water. Cobalt (Gisele N. ’26), Zinc (Abena A. ’25), and Nickel (Iris L. ’26) could be distinguished by their 80s-era denim.
From the labeling of the colonies (actual landing sites on Mars) to the naming of the characters (elements that exist on Mars) and the history of the planet as one that had water billions of years ago, the cast and crew of The Earthling created a story that combined fact, imagination, and ideas from other artistic works into a fully formed version of Martian history. Details about this world—from water in a Martian’s veins to how long each person lives and how many Martian years equal a human year—were provided to audience members in the playbill, which included a “History of Mars” and “An Audience’s Guide to Mars.” To make the show even more interactive, the students devised a quiz for audience members to take afterward in order to identify which character they would be.
Behind the scenes, Technical Theatre Director Rachael Robison led a team of builders, painters, sound techs, and light techs in creating a seamless experience for the audience. Their efforts included props designed and created in Emma’s Makerspace, creating the rocks of the red planet, assembling the centerpiece SIDRAT vehicle, planning and executing other-worldly sound effects and musical soundtracks, and creating the lighting that transported the audience. “This was definitely Mx. Robison's show to really shine through,” Flawson noted. “Their gift with sound effects and just creating an atmosphere, really drawing the audience in and not letting them leave…you’re just there the whole time.”
The leadership of Stage Manager Maci C. ’25, Assistant Stage Manager Suki Z. ’24, Assistant Sound Designer Ryder C. ’26, Assistant Light Designer Chloe Y. ’25, and Assistant Technical Director and Deck Crew Chief Renata L. ’26 kept the show on track. Costuming by Ana R. ’25, hair by Nica C. ’26, makeup by Palzom D. ’26, and projection design by Karissa G. ’23 brought the show to life. The full crew additionally included Kendall B. ’26, Jeena L. ’26, Lily W. ’25, and Comet D. ’26.
The resulting theatrical experience engaged our multi-talented students in creating a show that addressed a variety of poignant themes that are relevant to our times: personal responsibility for preserving and restoring our environment, kindness to others, use and abuse of power, the fluidity of identity, and the idea that every person is redeemable.
Bravo to the cast and crew of The Earthling!
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