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LAB! Theatre premieres student-written play about college senior challenges

Members of Lab! Theater rehearse their production of rehearsal "One Foot Forward, One Foot Back". Photo courtesy of Josh Wahab.

LAB! Theatre, a student theatre company, is virtually producing and broadcasting an original student play by senior Stuart Wilson, “One Foot Forward, One Foot Back" this weekend.

The show, which is free, will be live-streamed April 24-26 at 7:30 p.m. on YouTube and broadcast through Zoom Live.

Amelia Jerden, a senior and public relations director for LAB! Theatre, said the company realized in 2019 that there were not enough opportunities for student playwrights to have their work produced and performed on campus. Since then, the company commissions original student-written plays every year.

Director Evan Krell said the play is imbued with feelings graduating college students are all too familiar with — nostalgia for the past and incertitude about the future. These struggles are presented through the story of two rising seniors in college, Mason and Robin, who go back to Mason’s hometown of Atlas, N.C. to conduct research for their oral history project about the town.

In this fictional town inspired by Wilson’s own life, their findings challenge their assumptions about themselves, their future and the town.

“This play is an evolution of a conversation I have with myself about how much to hold on to from the past while you're really going towards the future,” Wilson said.

Wilson’s idea for this play was sparked in April 2020, and after his play was formally commissioned in 2020, he worked on the script throughout the summer. Starting in August and all throughout the fall 2020 semester, Wilson worked closely with LAB! Theatre on table reads and rewrites.

“I got a lot of good feedback,” Wilson said. “I was able to have discussions with people, explain my intention with the effects I wanted to achieve, hear how they felt, what worked, what didn't. I think that's definitely where I made the most progress in my growth as an author.”

Josh Wahab, a senior double majoring in dramatic art and political science, plays Lee, Mason’s childhood friend from Atlas. For the past three years, while Mason has been away at Hilltop Uni, Lee has been suffering in his hometown because he could not afford to go away to college. 

Wahab said he and the rest of the cast did a lot of work to get in touch with their characters.

“We did a lot of work talking about our own hometowns and trying to connect to the characters,” Wahab said. “I generally have a similar viewpoint to Lee from my hometown, so it was easy to really connect with him.”

Wilson also felt connected to the characters in his play because they all represent parts of himself, he said. In addition, his play is inspired by his personal experience and struggles.

“This play comes from a place of good frustration,” Wilson said. “This is certainly born out of trying to figure out what comes next for me after college. I have a lot of passions and a lot of places that I could go with my career, with my future, but I'm not quite sure.”

Krell thinks the audience, especially college students, will be able to connect to the play on a visceral level, as it shows challenges many college students face.

“I hope that for the students out there who are (facing these challenges), who sees this play, that they see that life can be tough, but things are going to work out,” Krell said. “There are people out there who will help you every step of the way, even in the face of some of the most challenging and changing times.”

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